Politics

What needs to happen for a general election to be called

Liz Truss has resigned, so what happens next and could there be an early general election? We break down everything you need to know

polling station/ general election

People are being turned away for not having ID. Image: Flickr/ Paul Albertella

Liz Truss has resigned as prime minister, so what’s next? There will be another leadership contest and we’ll supposedly have another PM by the end of next week. But following yet another collapsed government there is widespread outrage across the country and calls for a general election have intensified.

Labour wasted no time, with leader Keir Starmer saying: “After 12 years of Tory failure, the British people deserve so much better than this revolving door of chaos. We need a general election, now.”

But with the next election not due until January 2025, it’s easier said than done. The last two elections have been called early. Theresa May called for a snap election in 2017 to try to strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations – and lost the Conservatives their majority. And Boris Johnson called for another general election just two years later in 2019, resulting in the Tories winning a landslide majority of 80 seats. 

This is a very different situation, with a recent poll giving Labour a 36-point lead… and that was before all the political chaos of this week. But could a general election even be a possibility?

This is what you need to know about what happens now Liz Truss has resigned, who can call for a general election and what Labour might do next.

What happens now Liz Truss has resigned?

Now Truss has resigned, there will be another Conservative leadership contest to decide who will be the next prime minister. Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 committee, has said the new leader will be in place by Friday, October 28. This is so the new prime minister has time – well, a weekend – to prepare for the fiscal statement, still set to take place on October 31. 

But the result could come in much sooner next week. Candidates will need a minimum of 100 nominations from Tory MPs to proceed to the ballot – meaning a maximum of three candidates will be able to run. Nominations for the next PM opened on Thursday night and will close at 2pm on Monday.

If only one candidate gets more than 100 nominations, they will be the next prime minister. But if two or three candidates meet the threshold, voting will begin. 

Conservative MPs will vote in two rounds. The first will take place on Monday at 3.30pm with results announced at 6pm. A second round, if needed, would take place that evening. And the final result would be announced at 9pm.

If there is more than one candidate, members will then vote through a “secure online” system between Tuesday and Friday. The ballot will close at 11am on October 28 and the result will be announced later that day.

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Who can call a general election?

 “The government of the day can decide when to call a general election,” according to UK Parliament. This effectively means it’s up to the Tories to call for an election. 

The Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022 revived the power of the monarch to dissolve parliament, but only if the current prime minister requests it. 

The act replaced the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 which created fixed, five year periods between elections. Earlier elections could only be held in specified circumstances. 

We should have the results of the leadership contest (and know who our new prime minister is) by Friday next week. That new prime minister will have the power to call for a general election. 

Can Labour call a general election?

Labour can’t force a general election, but they can call for a vote of no-confidence against the government. If a vote of no-confidence is passed, the most likely outcome is that a general election is triggered. 

The last time a government was brought down by a no-confidence vote was in 1979, when opposition leader Margaret Thatcher brought in the vote. The Labour government lost by one vote – this mandated a general election which Thatcher’s Tory government went on to win. 

To pass, a vote of no-confidence would need a majority of the 650 MPs. This would mean Conservative MPs would have to vote against their own government (which seems incredibly unlikely). The Tories have a significant majority in the Commons, with 357 Tory MPs. 

What Labour can do – and is already doing – is to intensify the pressure for a general election and rally public outcry. With Truss now gone, the worry for the Conservatives is that voters won’t be able to stomach another huge change in government. This pressure might force the new PM to get an election.

Can the King call for a general election?

The King technically can dissolve parliament – but the monarch can only exercise that power at the request of the prime minister. So he really has very little power when it comes to calling an election. He could, in theory, block a general election by refusing the request of the prime minister but this would be incredibly unlikely to happen. 

Can the public call for a general election?

Not really. But they can mount pressure on the prime minister to call for a general election. There’s an online petition calling for an immediate election which has reached more than 660,000 signatures and that figure is growing rapidly. This was debated in parliament on October 17, and the government gave the following response: “The UK is a parliamentary democracy and the Conservative Party remains the majority party. The prime minister has pledged to ensure opportunity and prosperity for all people and future generations.”

But that was before Truss resigned and it is likely that new pressure will mount on the government as anger grows over the political chaos. 

The Independent has also launched a petition calling for an election. “Announcing her resignation, Ms Truss said a new prime minister would be chosen within a week. We at The Independent believe this is unacceptable,” acting editor David Marley said. The petition has already reached more than 50,000 signatures.

The public can also get involved with campaigns like Enough is Enough, which has garnered a huge following calling on the government to act in the face of the cost of living crisis. The group tweeted: “Liz Truss going is not enough. Austerity must go. Poverty wages must go. Foodbank queues must go. Cold homes in winter must go. A new suit in Downing Street means nothing to our people. Fix the society you have broken – or get out of the way.”

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