(Bloomberg) -- The new chairman of the Conservative Party hinted that the next UK general election will happen in the second half of 2024, suggesting Prime Minister Rishi Sunak intends to maximize his time in office before calling a vote.

“The next 18 months will see us win or lose the next general election,” Conservative chair Greg Hands wrote in a email to party supporters, having been appointed to the role earlier Tuesday. Hands said he wanted to get the party machinery in “fighting condition” ahead of the next national vote. Traditionally governing parties do not give their opponent notice of election timeframes to maximise competitive advantage. 

Under existing rules Sunak has to call an election by January 2025 at the latest, and his party currently sits around 20 points behind the Labour opposition in most polls. Sunak conducted a mini cabinet reshuffle Tuesday in a bid to kick-start his premiership, including picking Hands for the Tory chair role after the sacking of Nadhim Zahawi. 

“I think we are building towards a general election next year,” Hands told Sky News on Wednesday. He acknowledged local elections this May would be “difficult” as the Tories trail in the polls.  

Hands’s comments mean an election is most likely in the period around September to November 2024 before the weather turns too cold to campaign. Even so, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson went to the polls in December 2019. Johnson maximized Tory voters’ higher use of postal votes than the opposition parties to win a sizeable majority. 

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Tory strategists hope Sunak will cut the polling gap before the next election by showing progress on his five priorities, which include halving inflation, cutting waiting lists in the National Health Service and reducing the number of small boats crossing the English Channel.

--With assistance from Alex Morales.

(Adds comment from Greg Hands in fourth paragraph)

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