When is the next General Election?
The next general election in the United Kingdom is formally set for Thursday, 2nd May 2024.
Under the Fixed Term Parliament Act of 2011, General Elections are scheduled for the first Thursday of May, in the fifth year after the previous election.
Could there be an early election?
In December 2020, Boris Johnson’s government published a draft bill to repeal the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. These plans were formalised in the May 2021 Queen’s Speech with proposals for the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill.
Under these plans, the power to call early elections will return to the Prime Minister. It will not be possible for the Supreme Court to challenge the government on its decision to dissolve Parliament and call an election.
Although it is the Monarch who formally dissolves Parliament, prior to the Fixed Term Parliament Act, the Monarch traditionally did so upon the request of the Prime Minister.
So, yes, with the repeal of the Fixed Term Parliament Act, Boris Johnson will soon have the power to call a General Election prior to May 2024 should he wish to do so.
However with the Conservatives following behind in the polls in late 2021, it is unlikely that the party would risk taking the countries to the polls until their polling position improved substantially.
The cross-party House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee opposes the move to scrap the 2011 Fixed Term Parliament Act. It claims that handing the decision on the General Election date back to the Prime Minister provides an unfair advantage to the incumbent in Downing Street.
Israel and Japan, are amongst other countries, which also allow the government to dissolve Parliament and choose to initiate an election at any point of their choosing within a fixed timeframe.
But the last two Parliaments were not for a fixed term…
That is right. That is the irony of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. It only once actually delivered a fixed term Parliament.
Fixed term Parliaments were introduced in Britain as a consequence of the Liberal Democrat and Conservative coalition between 2010-15. The measure, and in particular its two thirds majority requirement, were designed to support a degree of certainty in the coalition’s tenure.
However within its provisions, the Act allowed for an early election to be called with the approval of a two-thirds majority in the House of Commons, or if a motion of no confidence in the government is passed by the Commons with no new government managing to secure its own majority in the ensuing two weeks.
In 2017, the House of Commons supported an early election through the first mechanism detailed above. There were 522 votes in favour of a General Election and only 13 against.
In 2019, it subsequently turned out to be possible to call a General Election using a simple majority by passing a separate Act of Parliament. This is how the 2019 election was called in the form of the Early Parliamentary General Election Act (2019). This passed through the Commons with the support of 438 MPs, with 181 abstentions, and 20 votes against.
So when will Boris Johnson call an election?
Although the next General Election is still most likely to be held in May 2024, the repeal of the Fixed Term Parliament Act does mean that Boris Johnson could conceivably call a snap election at any point before then, particularly if the Conservative party was ahead in the opinion polls.
However with the polls uncertain, the odds favour the next General Election being delayed until 2024.
Current constituency boundaries are also not set to be redrawn till 2023. This process will equalise the size of the constituencies, something that has previously been delayed for many years. It is expected that this process will lead to the creation of an extra ten seats in Conservative leaning England, whilst there will be a drop in two and eight seats in Scotland and Wales respectively.
Whatever year there is an election, the probabilities are that it will be in the Spring.
Only three of the fourteen UK elections held in the last fifty years (February 1974, October 1974, and December 2019) have not been held in the Spring (ie: between March and June).
How often are General Elections in the UK?
A full Parliamentary term in the United Kingdom can last up to five years. That is the longest that the country can go, without an election.
In the 40 years, prior to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, if the governing party was ahead in the polls it has tended to schedule an election in the Spring after four years. This happened under the Conservatives in 1983 and 1987, and under Labour in 2001 and 2005.
Only when the governing party has been behind in the polls, does it tend to wait for its full five year term to expire, doing so in the hope (normally forlorn) that its fortunes may subsequently improve. This was the experience of the Labour Government in 2010 and the Conservative Government in 1997.
Why are elections always held on a Thursday?
Every General Election since 1931 has been held on a Thursday.
It is thought that elections were held on a Thursday, as this was traditionally market day. It was suggested that this would see more people “coming into town”, possibly ensuring a higher turnout.
It has been suggested that elections on a Friday would have seen lower turnouts given people’s desire to begin their weekends. Saturday and Sunday were said to have been ruled out as election days given the need to pay extra for polling staff (traditionally local council employees) to then work extra days over the weekend.