Here's The Early General Election Scenarios MPs Are Predicting
Rumours of an early general election have swirled since Boris Johnson won by a landslide in December 2019.
Will he try to capitalise on that popularity to secure a new term sooner rather than later?
Or will he look to eke out a massive 81 seat Conservative majority as long as possible and push his term to the 2024 deadline?
When Labour overtook the Tories in the polls in recent weeks as the government took a battering over the sleaze scandal, some saw that as a sign that they'd hold out longer and wait for the storm to pass.
But it is also believed the long-term impact of Covid and crucial boundary changes that are coming down the line might leave them wanting to go early.
PoliticsHome asked insiders across the political spectrum when they think the next election could be, and the pros and cons for the government going to the polls then...
Labour’s current working assumption is that Boris Johnson will call a 2023 election, and Keir Starmer has reportedly instructed the party to be ready for Spring of that year.
“We’ve always worked to the assumption they will call it early," one Labour source said.
"Most of the economic pain has been deliberately pushed back to give them a clear run at an early election”.
A new Tory MP also believed that Johnson would favour a Spring 2023 election. “He’ll definitely call it sooner rather than later. He won’t want to wait,” they said.
Some Conservative councillors are particularly hopeful the country will go to the polls in the Spring as it could increase turnout for the local elections.
“A lot of associations are really hoping that it occurs in 2023 so it can coincide with the local elections, because obviously the Tories aren't predicted to do well in [the locals] right now. And that way they can ride the wave of that higher turnout,” one councillor said.
“It can push the turnout from 20% to 60%, and that will change everything.”
May 2023 is a preferable and traditional date for the next election, explains Professor Stephen Fisher, Associate Professor in Political Sociology at the University of Oxford.
"If all is going well for the government in early 2023, then an election in May, coinciding with the local elections that year, would be administratively efficient and at a traditional time of year for elections," he explains.
"There’s also a well established tradition of confident governments calling general elections a year before they are required by law."
But whether or not the election is called in the Spring of 2023 could depend on the outcome of the Boundary Commission’s review of parliamentary constituencies.
The final findings of the Boundary Commission aren’t due to be submitted to the Commons until June 2023 and its findings will automatically be applied at the next general election.
Under the most recent review published June 2020, England is set to gain 10 seats in the Commons, and many suspect the changes could benefit the Conservatives.
One Tory MP mused to PoliticsHome that whether or not this is the case could influence when Johnson pulls the trigger. He could hold a Spring election if the Boundary Commission changes don’t benefit his party, but may hold off until later in the year to call an election if they do.
Typically, general elections are held on the first Thursday in May, but many in the Tory party are expecting another winter election like the one called in 2019.
One reported motivation behind this is that the colder weather would disadvantage Labour canvassers and keep some voters away from the polls.
“Labour struggles to get their people out more than we do which gives us an advantage,” a cabinet source told The Mirror earlier this year.
“We think people will begin to see the results of the PM's levelling up agenda with roads being constructed and houses built in the Midlands and the North.”
Professor Fisher, however, disagrees with this assumption. "December 2023 would seem like an odd time to aim for given that Prime Ministers don’t normally want to have general elections in the winter," he said.
"This Prime Minister is primarily trying to defend marginal seats in the North of England and the midlands where there is a perceived risk of bad winter weather damping enthusiasm for turning out to vote for the government.
"There may not actually be much evidence for an effect of having a winter election or of bad weather on election outcomes, but still a winter election seems like a potential risk that the government might want to avoid."
His view was shared by Professor Edward Fieldhouse, lecturer in social and political science at the University of Manchester. "I can’t see any good reason for a December date — last time was exceptional circumstances — so reversion to May to coincide with local elections is most likely," he added.
He continued: "[This would make] it May 2024 unless things take a turn for the better, in which case May 2023 would be a good option."
The most recent UK general election was held on 12 December 2019, around two and a half years after the country had last gone to the polls on 8 June 2017.
Both snap elections — triggered first by then-PM Theresa May amid ongoing fallouts over Brexit negotiations, and then Johnson after he won the Tory leadership — were able to circumvent the 2011 Fixed Term Parliaments Act (FTPA) which had originally set the date of the next election for May 2020.
The Act set parliamentary terms at five years, but the Commons could agree to an early election date in one of two ways: a vote of no-confidence in the government, which only required a simple majority, or if two-thirds of MPs agreed to the earlier date. The latter is how the last two elections were called.
Under the FTPA, the next general election should take place in May 2024, close to five years after the last election. However, the Johnson administration is in the process of repealing the FTPA, which was brought in under the Coalition government.
Its repeal will be achieved via the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill, which is currently making its way through Parliament. The Bill’s stated aim is to return powers on calling elections to how they were “as if the FTPA had never been enacted".
While most bets are on the election being a year early, Johnson could opt for a 2024 poll if his political fortunes start to decline over the next year.
"Given the government’s current problems with sleaze and internal dissatisfaction about lack of levelling up, plus underlying problems with the NHS and the economy, a later date would seem likely," Professor Fieldhouse said.
"This would also be attractive to Conservatives because of the prospect of advantageous boundary changes due to come in."
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe