UK’s summer election: what effect will the timing have on voters?

<span>A woman arrives at a polling station in Tower Hamlets, London, on 6 May 2021. </span><span>Photograph: Vickie Flores/EPA</span>
A woman arrives at a polling station in Tower Hamlets, London, on 6 May 2021. Photograph: Vickie Flores/EPA

Summer elections are hardly new – Theresa May crisscrossed the country claiming to be “strong and stable” in June 2017, and Jeremy Corbyn celebrated cutting her majority by taking to the stage at Glastonbury.

But the last time the UK went to the polls in July was the historic postwar election of 1945, two months after the celebrations of VE Day.

The formal date for that poll was 5 July, but counting was delayed until three weeks later, to ensure the votes of members of the armed forces still serving overseas were included.

After serving as Winston Churchill’s deputy in the wartime coalition, Clement Attlee led Labour to a landslide victory with a majority of 145 seats, as the country sought change in the aftermath of the devastating conflict.

July elections were common in the 19th century, but in the postwar period, May and June have broadly been the norm – aside from snap polls such as Boris Johnson’s chilly December campaign in 2019.

From 1997, when Tony Blair came to power, to 2010, when Labour was relegated to opposition, every general election was in May, aside from 2001, which was delayed for a month as the government tackled an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease on farms.

While 4 July still falls squarely in the school term in England and Wales, Sunak is likely to be accused of failing to consider Scotland, where the election will be fought especially fiercely.

Many Scottish schools break up for the summer holidays a week earlier and, as many families with school-age children take off on holiday, turnout could fall significantly. Labour and the SNP are both likely to embark on intensive postal voting campaigns.

There will be much speculation, too, about the impact on the public mood of the Euro 2024 men’s football championships, and whether the fate of the hotly tipped England team makes any difference to the fabled “feelgood factor”.

England’s unexpected defeat in the 1970 World Cup quarter-final is believed by some analysts to have had an impact on Harold Wilson’s ejection from office a few days later.

This summer, at least some voters’ attention may be distracted by the progress of England (and indeed Scotland) through Euro 2024 – with polling day falling between the group stages and the quarter-finals.

A summer poll does have the considerable advantage of not clashing with the height of the US election race, however.

There had been security concerns about the two elections coinciding – and Sunak risked his battle plan being pulled out of shape by journalists demanding reactions to Donald Trump’s latest controversial pronouncement on the campaign trail.

Activists will also welcome the prospect of a summer poll, as pounding the doorsteps in July is likely to be considerably more pleasant than the alternative dates of October or November.

Assuming the polls are anything near correct, exhausted Conservative foot soldiers can then head off on their summer break, before considering future career options.

After Sunak’s Tory predecessors John Major and Theresa May left office, both headed to watch some consolatory cricket the next day.

Unfortunately for fellow cricket fan Sunak, who appeared on Test Match Special last year, there is no play at Lords on 5 July – but he could slink off to Wimbledon and take in some tennis.