When is the next UK general election?
Possible election dates include 17 October, 14 November and 12 December

When is the next general election? The viable dates Rishi Sunak will be considering

Under section 2 of the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022, parliament is dissolved and a general election triggered by the King, using prerogative powers. 

But the conventions which dictate how the UK’s system of constitutional monarchy operates mean it is the prime minister who traditionally travels to Buckingham Palace to request the dissolution of parliament. 

Election timing, therefore, is entirely the reserve of the PM of the day and their lectern — the latter of which is duly placed on Downing Street as the key signal for Buckingham Palace and No 10 outsiders that a national poll awaits. 

One cultural consequence of the recent restoration of the PM’s election-calling power — which followed the repeal of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 — is that the media now feverishly questions the incumbent, Rishi Sunak, as to his thinking. And in response, Sunak has already dropped some pretty significant hints. 

On 18 December 2023, the prime minister informed journalists that the coming year of 2024 would be an election year. Then, with speculation running rife as to the possibility of an early election, Sunak appeared to narrow his room for manoeuvre further in January 2024 — telling broadcasters that it it his “working assumption” that an election would take place in the second half of the year.

This somewhat woolly line, which Sunak stuck to ruthlessly no matter the reverberations around Westminster through January-March, granted Labour just enough wiggle room to engage in its own expectation-management operation. 

For months, Labour spokespeople worked consummately to readjust SW1’s expectations and build hype around a potential May election held in tandem with the local elections. Shadow paymaster general Jonathan Ashworth even staked some money on his election conviction, betting £10 with Sky News host Kay Burley that the PM will call a poll for May. 

With election speculation becoming increasingly feverish, the prime minister finally burst Labour’s bubble on 14 March by telling ITV that “There won’t be a general election on [2 May]”.

Having in effect ruled out a spring election, the prime minister is nonetheless running out of time to hone his case to the public before his inevitable, and inaugural, encounter with the electorate. 

So, informed by Sunak’s recent pronouncements — together with our knowledge of precedent (elections are by tradition held on a Thursday, for instance) — Politics.co.uk has crunched the numbers and analysed some likely dates the PM might plump for a poll. Ready your diaries…

A summer election?

Rishi Sunak’s decision to rule out an election on 2 May is, of course, only a limited pronouncement — that, in theory, leaves the prime minister with plenty of room for manoeuvre.

In this way, politicos well note that through November 2023-January 2024, No 10 appeared to be signalling that an early election was genuinely the PM’s s preferred option. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt‘s decision to pen in the spring budget for the historically early date of 6 March raised eyebrows significantly in SW1. (In 2023, the spring budget landed on the 15th; in 2022, it was the 23rd). Hunt’s timing here would, a prominent theory held at the time, ensure voters feel the likely tax giveaways before an early election. Still today, much of Westminster is finding it rather difficult to shake this line of analysis — with commentators still regularly opining as to the prospect of a May poll.

Politically, as well — as John Major found in 1997 — the optics of being seen to hold onto power past one’s time are inherently politically difficult. And Sunak may be doubly exposed to this criticism, given that he remains, as opposition parties like to point out, a “man without a mandate”. Lord Daniel Finkelstein, a former adviser to Major, has warned Sunak thusly: “When I look back on the 1997 election, I think one thing we could have done to mitigate the size of our defeat is to have gone slightly earlier”.

Nonetheless, with a May election essentially ruled out, it follows that the prime minister would only trigger an “early” election if he was forced into it. 

It has been suggested that if Rishi Sunak believes his position as Conservative Party leader is under threat, he would sooner force a general election than face an ousting courtesy of his rebel colleagues. Tellingly, this tactic — a presumed stick for the PM to beat his rebels into line with — was recently briefed to The Times newspaper by a Sunak “ally”. 

Far from restoring order, however, the intervention served to exacerbate tensions. For one, former cabinet minister Sir Simon Clarke argued that the Lascelles Principles — under which the sovereign can refuse a request from the prime minister to dissolve parliament — “suggest this would be a terrible idea”. 

While these principles were said to be in abeyance from 2011 to 2022, they are thought to have been revived following the repeal of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 and the passage of the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022.

King Charles, the Rt Hon Sir Simon Clarke counselled, could just say no. 

Cons of holding a summer election

Sensing, perhaps, that the “Sunak ally’s” comments had made matters worse, a briefing to Bloomberg has since indicated that No 10 has ruled out the prospect of holding an election in the summer. 

The relevant write-up held: “In a matter of hours, then, Sunak’s allies had gone from issuing a tough warning to dramatically backing down in the face of internal Tory pressure”.

On top of this, given that the government has now finally penned in a date for the European Political Community (EPC) meeting on 18 July, election watchers are now expecting a poll sometime after this date. EU diplomats had reportedly interpreted the PM’s delay in providing a date for the next EPC conclave as No 10 wishing to retain the option of holding an election in the spring.

Meanwhile, although it has been suggested that Sunak could be tempted to call an election if Conservative defections to Reform UK increased from one (a lone Lee Anderson) to ten, it seems strikingly unlikely that a further nine Conservative MPs will throw in with the Faragists. Anderson’s rolling conversions from Labour councillor to Conservative MP to Reform MP speak to a genuinely sui generis trajectory. It’s not a path we can expect Tory MPs like Brendan Clarke-Smith or Mark Jenkinson to follow. 

Politics@Lunch: Will more Conservative MPs follow Lee Anderson to Reform UK?

A summer election would also lead to a series of potent political difficulties. As spring closes, we can expect Channel crossings to rise once more; and given “stopping the boats” is one of the prime minister’s “five priorities” for government, it would seem unlikely that he would plump for a poll in a period when crossings are slated to rise. 

In the end, if the prime minister opted to defy expectations — and now his word — in calling an election according to a summer schedule, it would be a serious gamble. The very act of staking the future of the party, and the careers of a horde of MPs in marginal and not-so-marginal constituencies on an optimistic hunch, would be rubbished in some quarters of the Conservative Party as reckless. The memory of the 2017 election campaign — when then-PM Theresa May called an election far earlier than she was obliged — still haunts the Conservatives. And May in 2017, of course, was polling far ahead of Sunak now.

A quick check of the historical record also shows that in 1997 and 2010 — the last two times the UK has had a change of party in power — the ruling party held on until the last possible moment. 

Moreover, if — post-2nd May — we are now inexorably approaching “long” territory, why would Sunak not stick it out to the end, see through the term the Conservative Party was granted in 2019, and give himself as much time as possible to inspire a revival and avoid a much-foretold routing? He has already had to withstand attacks on him as a “squatter” and a “chicken”, why not allow yourself some more crucial months to take the fight to Labour?

If the PM does go “long” with an election, even in the likely eventuality that he loses he could plausibly plead to routed MPs and posterity that he tried everything he could to thwart Labour’s inexorable advance. As far as Rishi Sunak’s personal motivations go, the history books could not accuse the PM of a gamble that backfired on his party if he called an election any time beyond the summer.

The view to 2024: What next for British politics?

Likelihood rating: 2/10

17 October 2024 as a possible election date

With opinion polls showing the Conservatives trailing Labour by an average of 20 points, it has long-been the prevailing view in Westminster that Sunak will play it long and hope to persuade voters that the economy is moving in the right direction.

The prime minister’s comments on 14 March, ruling out a May election, appeared to confirm as much. 

In short, waiting until the autumn could mean voters are more likely to feel the benefits of chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s consecutive tax cuts at the autumn statement and spring budget — with improvement on other economic indicators exalted as evidence that Sunak’s plan is “working”.

There is also the matter, as ever, of the government’s flagship Rwanda deportation scheme. Sunak, who has spent much of his time in No 10 extolling his status as a problem solver, would likely loath to call an election before he has met his promise to get flights to Rwanda off the ground. Calling an election later this year could give the prime minister enough time to navigate the Rwanda Bill through the House of Lords and see off any subsequent legal challenges. 

A series of flights to Rwanda could — some Conservative figures resolve — prove the electoral elixir the prime minister desperately needs. 

In light of the prime minister’s recent comments on timing, then, an autumn/winter appears to be baked into No 10’s political strategy. 

Year-in-Review: The rejection of Rishi Sunak

Along these lines, then, on 19 March, Jeremy Hunt appeared to drop a pretty significant hint that the election will be in October. Speaking to the Lords’ Economic Affairs Committee on the matter of conducting a spending review after the election before next April, Hunt said: “If the general election is in October, that will mean it’s very, very tight. And that is why we’re thinking in advance”. 

Now, assuming the PM sticks to the convention of holding an election on a Thursday, the possible dates for an October election are as follows: 10 October, 17 October, 24 October and 31 October. 

In keeping with the mandatory 25 working days required for a campaign, a 10 October election would require the prime minister to trigger a poll almost immediately as MPs return from summer recess in September — leaving but little time between the holidays and the campaigning bustle.  

Moreover, a report in The Sun newspaper has recently suggested that 24 October is also a non-starter — given King Charles is due in Samoa for the annual conference wealth summit that day. 

Therefore, assuming a Halloween election (31 October) would be looked upon dimly by CCHQ on account of the obvious “horror election” headlines, that leaves only the 17th. As far as The Sun’s well-connected political editor Harry Cole is concerned, it’s essentially a done deal. 

How Rishi Sunak could fight a ‘stop the boats election’

Cons of holding an October election

An October election would present a dilemma to the prime minister over when/whether to hold a party conference. 

These annual fêtes of party activists are usually held in this autumn period and provide important political and revenue-raising opportunities for a party. It is also noted that holding one in this period could harm Sunak’s election campaign by drawing party activists to boozy fringe events and away from the doorsteps of marginal constituencies.

A party conference also takes months of planning, and thus signalling his desire not to hold one would narrow down his election thinking significantly, potentially providing Labour with important clues as to a poll date. That is something Sunak seems keen to avoid.

In the end, if Sunak pursues an October election, it is likely that party conferences — and their associated financial and political benefits — would have to be forgone. 

Likelihood rating: 7.5/10

14 November 2024 as a possible election date

If the prime minister plumps for a November election, he could very simply square the circle of when/whether to hold a party conference; in fact, such a scenario could see the prime minister use the annual fête as a crucial pre-election opportunity. 

Picture the scene as the prime minister stands atop his conference soapbox, basking in the glow of the media spotlight and before a packed audience of eager Conservative activists, states his intention to call an election. Rebel MPs, who might otherwise have used the conference to manoeuvre and plot, would feel compelled to fall into line; and anything uttered at the Labour Party conference a few days prior would be rendered relatively immaterial. 

As it happens, former chancellor George Osborne recently claimed on his Political Currency podcast that No 10 has singled out 14 November as the likely date for a poll. For this to be the case, the prime minister would have to make the requisite pre-election announcement in mid-late October — slap bang in the middle of conference season. 

Osborne said: “A little birdie has told me that the various work programmes required to get ready for a general election have that date singled out — 14 November.

“By the way, logic leads you there because you’re not going to have it in the first half of the year. … It’s a non-starter. He’s more than 20 points behind in the opinion polls. He’s not going to have a spring election.

He added: “So then you’re left with the autumn. And you’re probably thinking: ‘I know, we’ll have the party conference as a kind of launch pad. We’ll fit in an autumn statement, like a mini-budget, either before that or immediately after it.’ 

“And that kind of leads you into mid-November. So 14 November kind of writes itself”.

Cons of holding a November election

One consequence of this election schedule is that it would overlap the United States’ own campaigning period, with their poll scheduled to be held on 5 November.

This could be an issue given the prime minister is reported to have been advised by the security services to avoid any UK-US electoral convergence, on the grounds that they believe this to be a “huge” security risk. Hostile actors are expected to attempt to influence results on both sides of the Atlantic.

On top of this, politically, such Transatlantic electoral convergence in late 2024 could forge in presumed Republican nominee Donald Trump and Rishi Sunak a marriage of grave political inconvenience. 

Picture the prime minister once more as he is on the campaign trail, incessantly quoted the former president’s positions, and forced at every turn to walk a tightrope: neither rebuking nor embracing Trump’s extreme, domestically unpopular positions. Observers on both sides of the pond could frame 2024’s Transatlantic electoral convergence as some era-defining, politically-totemic right versus leftprogressive versus reactionary contest. Keir Starmer, it is well-known, sees virtue in such an approach; Sunak, conversely, should beware The Donald.

Keir Starmer’s American dream

Trump also maintains his admirers in the Conservative Party; during the 2020 presidential election, for instance, Suella Braverman’s prime patron Sir John Hayes was seen wielding a “Keep America Great” banner. And in recent weeks a string of Conservative figureheads have entered the fray to essentially endorse the former US President — individuals such as Sir Jacob Rees Mogg, Dame Andrea Jenkyns and Boris Johnson. With other party figures rather less glowing when it comes to the former White House occupant, the US election could serve to highlight and potentially inflame divisions in the Conservative Party. 

Simply put, the noise the US election will generate could drown out any Conservative messaging in the final weeks of campaigning.

Likelihood rating: 7/10

12 December 2024 as a possible election date

A December election, meanwhile, would see both the prime minister avoid any dire electoral convergence with the United States, and allow for a party conference to be built into the government’s pre-poll preparations as a crucial staging post. 

On top of this, it would also allow for a full, final autumn statement to be delivered by the chancellor, with further tax giveaways likely forthcoming. In this way, Rishi Sunak could consciously imitate John Major’s 1992 election strategy — albeit in a different season — while allowing for enough time for improved economic growth prospects and inflation figures to cut through with voters.

A 12 December election would come exactly five years after the 2019 poll — which could give the prime minister’s choice of this date some semblance of legitimacy, possibly acting as a counter to Labour’s “squatter” criticisms. It would require the prime minister to trigger the poll on 6 November, the day after the US election. 

And because 2024 is a leap year, the 12 December is once more a Thursday. Are the stars aligning for Sunak?

An additional consideration, here, is that if Donald Trump does win the US election, then my analysis above could be flipped. Labour leader Keir Starmer would be under pressure to walk back his criticism of the now-president in order to secure a US-UK trade deal. Labour, as a consequence, would split over how to treat Trump (see shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry’s recent comments, for example). In this scenario, Sunak could snipe from the sidelines — extolling himself as a statesman who refuses to let ideology cloud Britain’s diplomatic objectives. 

But, more profoundly, if the polls remain stubborn through 2024, self-preservation instincts, combined with Sunak’s intent to strike down Labour’s towering poll lead, could see the government stretch time in this parliament to its limit. Despite there being clear prima facie cases for a general election to be held in October or November, the prime minister would likely loathe to risk the future of his party, and his career, when he still thinks progress can still be made. 

No 10, one presumes, still has faith Sunak can turn the polls around — we shouldn’t expect that faith to diminish.

Likelihood rating: 7.5/10

23 January 2025 as a possible election date

The analysis above arguably makes the case for a January 2025 election, too. The longer the prime minister waits will mean more time for the PM to hone a coherent vision; more time to stamp his authority on his party as factions swirl and egos agitate; more time to prove to his party he can win; more time to advance on NHS waiting lists, industrial action, small boats crossings, economic growth and inflation; and, thus, more time to win the “trust” of voters — as he committed to in his first address outside No 10 as PM.

According to the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022, an election on 28 January 2025 is the last possible date that one could be held. (By convention, however, polls are usually held on a Thursday, meaning that 23 January 2025 is the last likely date).

So (very) ‘long’, prime minister: a January 2025 election has never looked more likely

But January also happens to be filed under the “ruled out” classification of possible election months — given he informed journalists as early as 18 December 2023 that 2024 would be an “election year”.

It is pretty plain to see why the prime minister would rule this option out. A January election would involve would-be MPs campaigning over Christmas — something that has not happened in the UK since 1910. It is an unattractive prospect for all the major parties and probably the public too, with poor weather and shorter daylight hours likely to affect both campaigning and turnout.

New Statesman columnist Jonn Elledge, a rare proponent of the Jan 2025 election thesis, has written: “Dying governments that nonetheless won’t lose a confidence vote hang on to the bitter end. There are only a few short windows in which Sunak would need to feel emboldened enough to take a risk if we’re actually to have an election this year.

But the good news isn’t coming. The picture, for the Tories, is unremittingly bleak. There is always a reason to hang on, in the hope tomorrow will be better. There is always a reason to believe that tomorrow, just maybe, the shirt will fit.

“I don’t want this to be true. I have rarely wanted more to be wrong. But I’m starting to think this is not an election year after all.


Likelihood rating: 3/10

Josh Self is Editor of Politics.co.uk, follow him on Twitter here.

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