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

The potential dates Rishi Sunak is considering holding the next general election
The potential dates Rishi Sunak is considering holding the next general election - STEFAN ROUSSEAU/REUTERS

Downing Street has declined to rule out a June or July election as the Conservatives’ polling ratings continue to fall.

On March 14, Rishi Sunak ruled out a national poll on the same day as the May 2 local elections, in a move that appeared to put Britain on course for an autumn general election.

Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, later suggested the national ballot was expected in October. But Mr Sunak has refused to be drawn further, laughing off demands to name a date as he insisted the announcement would be made in the “formal and official way”.

As Parliament entered its Easter recess, reports suggested that some figures around the Prime Minister increasingly believed that defeat was inevitable.

ITV News reported that those people were now focusing on how to minimise the damage of an election loss, and protect Mr Sunak’s legacy as far as possible.

In theory, there still remain three possible scenarios for an election: a poll in the late spring or early summer, an autumn election, or a poll at the last possible moment, in December or January 2025.

Here, The Telegraph examines each of those possibilities and the process that would follow Mr Sunak’s decision to trigger an election.

When is the next general election expected?

George Osborne, the former chancellor, claimed on his Political Currency podcast that No 10 has singled out Nov 14 as the likely date for a poll. Such a date would be dictated by “logic”.

An early election is a “non-starter”, according to Mr Osborne, given the fact that the Conservatives are some 20 points behind in the polls – which would indicate a seismic win for Labour.

The Prime Minister has explicitly said that between now and an election “in the second half of this year”, he would get on with “managing the economy well and cutting people’s taxes”.

A 2p National Insurance cut announced last year took effect on Jan 6 and Jeremy Hunt announced another 2p cut in March’s spring Budget. An autumn election, in the minds of Tory strategists, would allow time for the benefit of those cuts to be felt by voters.

A November election could allow Mr Sunak to use the Conservatives’ annual conference at the end of September to rally his troops ahead of a national campaign. Mr Osborne also speculated that it would allow time for the party to “fit in an autumn statement, like a mini-Budget, either before that or immediately after it”.

Mr Sunak could also opt to call an election as soon as the Commons returns from its summer recess in September, resulting in voters going to the ballot box the following month. Under this scenario, party conferences would be cancelled.

Could we have a spring 2024 election?

The possible Conservative bet on an autumn election is partly based on the assumption that they can significantly improve their standing in the polls between now and then.

But not everyone in the party is convinced that they can.

Mr Sunak’s advisers are concerned that they appear to have had little benefit in the polls for major policies that were designed to help turn around their fortunes, such as the National Insurance cut, and what No 10 described, not unfairly, as the biggest single clampdown on legal migration ever, announced in December.

James Frayne, the founding partner of research agency Public First, said the public has largely now “collectively switched off the Tories, like an annoying radio show. Most voters just can’t be bothered with them anymore. It’s just the same old politicians droning on about the same old problems. It’s hard to see how the party can cut through at all, regardless of whether they call an election or not.”

If Mr Sunak keeps finding that major policy announcements are failing to improve his standing in the polls he may just decide to give up on waiting until the autumn and take his chances with an earlier election.

Key factors for the Prime Minister will include whether economic statistics such as the level of inflation are continuing to improve, and whether polling and focus group research suggest that voters are feeling the positive effects of the National Insurance cut and giving the Conservatives credit for the moves.

Any success in getting Rwanda deportation flights off the ground would also strengthen the case for just going to the country in the spring or summer, as would steady decline of the NHS elective waiting list.

But, as the Conservatives’ poll ratings continue to fall, there is also a possibility that Mr Sunak decides to go to the polls regardless of these factors, if he believes the party’s fortunes could get worse if he waits.

May 2 was previously considered as the most likely date for a spring election to coincide with this year’s council and mayoral elections.

The Institute for Government pointed out that such timing would avoid the risk that “a heavy defeat in the local elections could increase pressure on the Prime Minister – including from within his party – and make it difficult to regain momentum ahead of an election that would by then be less than a year away”.

Mr Sunak now faces an even bigger headache on May 2 following the resignation of former Conservative MP Scott Benton, triggering a by-election in Blackpool South on the same date.

Heavy losses on May 2 could be a catalyst for MPs currently wondering whether Mr Sunak is the best person to lead the Conservatives into the next election. He could, however, still attempt to wrong-foot his detractors by seizing the initiative himself and calling an election that would be held the following month, in June.

What is the latest date Rishi Sunak could call a general election?

Under the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022, Parliament will automatically be dissolved on Dec 17 2024 – five years after the 2019 election – if a poll has not been called by this point. The last possible date for an election would be 25 working days later, on Jan 28 2025 – however, by convention, polls are usually held on a Thursday, meaning that Jan 23 2025 is the last likely date.

A January 2025 election would give the Conservatives the maximum possible time to deliver on their pledges, including on cutting NHS waiting lists, reducing debt and stopping the passage of small boats across the Channel. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has previously said it expects that waiting lists will only begin falling from mid-2024.

Given recent polling and Mr Frayne’s characterisation of voters’ views of the Conservatives, such an approach might, on current course, be based on unrealistic levels of optimism.

A January election would also involve would-be MPs campaigning over Christmas – an unattractive prospect for all the major parties and probably the public too.

How are general elections called?

Under Section 2 of the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act, Parliament is dissolved by the King, using prerogative powers. Traditionally the Prime Minister travels to Buckingham Palace to request the dissolution of Parliament, before returning to Downing Street to announce the forthcoming election.

When will polling take place?

Parliament would be dissolved a few days after the election is announced and polling day would take place 25 working days after that. The civil service would then enter “purdah” – the period between an election being called and polling day which involves strict restrictions on the work of officials to ensure that Whitehall resources are not being used to benefit any party.

When should I register to vote?

The deadline for registering to vote is usually midnight at the end of the 12th working day before polling day.