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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

Rishi Sunak attempted to dampen down speculation over the timing of a general election by stating his “working assumption” was that the poll would take place in the second half of the year.

The announcement was intended to head off a planned Labour attempt to label the Prime Minister a “bottler” if he avoids calling an earlier election in May rather than waiting until the autumn.

Mr Sunak has not, however, ruled out a May election and Sir Keir Starmer’s party is readying itself for the possibility of an early poll to ensure it is not wrong-footed if the Prime Minister gambles on going to the country in the spring.

That leaves three likely scenarios: an early election in the late spring or early summer, an autumn election, or a poll at the last possible moment, in 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 Number 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 Mr Sunak has said that he will cut taxes further between now and an election - with an income tax cut thought most likely to be included in the forthcoming March 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 Number 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: “Several months ago the public just 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 a spring election. Key factors for the Prime Minister will include whether economic figures such as the level of inflation are continuing to improve, and if 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 move.

Any success in getting Rwanda deportation flights off the ground would also strengthen the case for just going to the country in the spring, as would any sign that the NHS elective waiting list is finally starting to fall.

A spring election would be likely to be held on May 2 to coincide with this year’s council and mayoral elections. The Institute for Government has 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”.

Such a move would be likely to significantly increase the turnout in council and mayoral elections, a factor causing concern among some Tory mayors who fear it might result in their opponents getting more support than might otherwise be the case.

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 17 December 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 Jan 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.