UK general election: Three potential dates when Britain could go to the polls

When the next general election will be called is set to dominate political talk at the beginning of 2024.

The latest it can technically be held is Tuesday, January 28, 2025. But Rishi Sunak is expected to call a vote far earlier, telling journalists in December that "2024 will be an election year".

Britain is on its third Prime Minister since Boris Johnson oversaw a landslide victory for the Conservatives in December 2019.

In just four years the party has been hit by a number of scandals and now languishes 15 to 20 points behind Labour in opinion polls.

Brexit fallout, partygate, strikes across numerous industries, a conveyor belt of cabinet ministers and the ongoing cost of living crisis has diminished the Tories' reputation for stability and economic competence.

Now with the election looming, all parties have begun their campaigns to woo wavering voters.

Mr Sunak will be fighting to win a historic fifth term in Government for the Conservatives, while Sir Keir Starmer wants to be the first Labour leader to win an election since Tony Blair.

So when can we expect the vote to be called?

Potential general election dates in 2024

May 2024

Despite the Conservatives being significantly behind Labour in opinion polls, some Tory insiders have argued that an early election would be preferable to going later in the year and the spring would be the best bet for the party to cling onto power.

Local elections are taking place across England and Wales on May 2, with thousands of council seats up for grabs, as well as police and crime commissioners and the Mayoral election in London.

If significant numbers of Tory councillors lose their seats, the impact could be devastating for Mr Sunak's reputation and faith in him as leader.

Bruising results could see morale drop among Tory activists, who would then be expected to hit the campaign trail again for a general election later in the year.

In November, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt ignited rumours that a May election could be on the cards. In his Autumn Statement, he announced that millions of workers would be receiving a National Insurance tax cut from January this year, rather than in April as would be standard.

Speculation was further fuelled by the announcement last week that the Spring Budget will be held on March 6, rather than later in the month, where the Chancellor is expected to declare more pubic-pleasing tax cuts.

When he became Prime Minister over a year ago Mr Sunak made five key pledges - to halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt, cut NHS waiting lists and stop small boat crossings.

The number of people making the perilous journey across the Channel hit a record 45,755 in 2022. The provisional annual total for 2023 was 36% lower at 29,437, but net migration overall was at an all time high, boosting the UK population by 745,000 people.

The Government has introduced proposals to prevent people coming to Britain illegally, including threats to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Crossings significantly reduce in the winter due to weather conditions.

A late election could risk a summer where tens of thousands more people make the dangerous journey from France to Britain and potentially show up Mr Sunak's plan to stop them.

Labour, who are keen to see an early election while so far ahead in opinion polls, have been fuelling the narrative that the public can expect an election in May. Shadow minister Emily Thornberry said it was the "worst kept secret in Westminster” that a contest would be called in the Spring.

If Mr Sunak fails to call an election in May, Labour could launch a campaign describing the PM as a “bottler” and accusing him of “squatting” in Downing Street. It was a tactic the Tories used against Gordon Brown in 2009.

October 2024

Many political experts believe an autumn election is more credible given the polling gap the Tories are working with.

They believe there is unlikely to be any significant movement on key issues, including the economic outlook, NHS waiting lists and immigration, in the first half of the year.

However, the later date could give the public may be able to feel the benefits of any personal tax cuts that

Sir John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, has said suggestions of a May election are likely designed to keep Labour "on their toes" and "create uncertainty around campaign plans".

In late September and early October UK political parties hold their annual conferences, which are huge opportunity to raise revenue, connect with members and attract media attention for policies.

The Labour and Conservative event attract around 12,000 attendees each year and also bring in significant amounts in donations to bolster election war chests.

An election later in the year would also put more scrutiny on Labour's plans for Government and Sir Keir as leader.

Polling expert and Tory peer Lord Robert Hayward has argued that October is the most likely time for an election because the Government needs time to tackle the cost of living crisis, which is the top issue with voters.

A later election also gives Mr Sunak more distance from the chaos of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss's premierships and could allow him to build more of a reputation as stable leader.

Sir John told The Standard: “Given the failure of the Conservatives to secure any significant recovery so far from the damage that was inflicted on their popularity by Liz Truss’ ill-fated administration, the task facing Rishi Sunak to turn things around in the next nine to ten months now looks a very substantial one.”

January 2025

Elections must be held at least every five years.

December 17, 2024 is exactly five years since Parliament met following the last general election. If another vote has not been called by this point, Parliament will be automatically dissolved and the election would have to take place 25 working days later.

This means that the latest date for Britain to go to the polls is January 28, 2025. However, it is highly unlikely the Prime Minister will wait this long and risk being accused of "squatting" in Number 10 by his Labour rivals.

Mr Sunak has already said 2024 will be an election year and appeared to rule out a winter campaign, where activists would have to door knock and head to the polls during dark and gloomy weather.