Who can call a general election?

Rumours have started popping up over when Brits will go to the polls.

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech during a press conference on the net zero target, at the Downing Street Briefing Room, in central London, on September 20, 2023.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's speech on the net zero target was read by many as electioneering. (Alamy)

Rishi Sunak has been busy recently.

The prime minister has spent the past couple of weeks watering down net-zero pledges; committing to the very expensive triple-lock pension; talking about cutting inheritance tax, and, most recently, signalling he will limit the roll-out of 20mph speed limit zones.

He's also made a rare appearance on Radio 4's flagship 'Today' politics show as well as doing the rounds on local radio.

Labour hasn't been shy either. This week, the main opposition party - which is comfortably ahead in the polls - said it would add VAT to private school fees if in power.

The sudden gear change in policy announcements has led many to speculate that both parties are gearing up for a general election.

Sky News' respected political commentator Adam Boulton even wrote recently that the next election "isn't far away" and could take place as early as May next year.

Yahoo explains what it takes to call a general election...

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British Labour Party leader Keir Starmer speaks during the G7 Summit Statement from the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the House of Commons in London, Britain May 22, 2023. UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. IMAGE MUST NOT BE ALTERED.
British Labour Party leader Keir Starmer is polling better than Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.(Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via Reuters)

When is the next general election?

While there has been no date announced for the next general election, Parliament has a maximum term of five years between general elections.

This Parliament met on 17 December, 2019 - so the latest possible date it could be dissolved is 17 December 2024 (unless King Charles chooses to dissolve it sooner).

Following Parliament's dissolution, polling would take place no longer than 25 days later - putting the last possible date for a general election in January 2025.

However, while many governments have previously called elections ahead of this deadline, Sunak has suggested he will be waiting until the last minute to do so.

“We’ve got plenty of time between now and the next election," he said at the beginning of September, also stating that he wanted to tell voters to let him serve a full term.

“I will be saying to them ‘give me a full term and then I’ll show what I can deliver for you’," he said.

People come to vote in UK General Election to a polling station in London, United Kingdom on December 12, 2019. (Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto)
There is a maximum of five years between general elections. (Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto)

Who can call a general election?

The government of the day is responsible for calling a general election - meaning in this case that the Conservative Party will decide when the public go to the polls (within the guidelines of maximum Parliamentary terms).

Governments tend to call elections when it is most beneficial for them to do so (eg when they are enjoying a high approval rating, or when the opposition is weak), giving themselves the maximum possible advantage with voters.

Who will win the next election?

Things are not currently looking good for the Conservatives, with Labour reaching a 20-point lead in the opinion polls in September 2023 - a strong motive for Sunak to delay the next election for as long as possible.

Additionally, the July by-elections saw the Conservatives lose two seats - one to the Labour Party and one to the Liberal Democrats - while the number of Tory-controlled local councils has fallen from 89 councils in 2019 to 33 this year.

However, Sunak appears to be hoping that a distinctive divide with the Labour Party over environmental issues may sway more voters back to the Tories - appearing to view the Uxbridge by-election as a litmus test, backing road users over the green-friendly Ulez charge.

Chart showing voting intentions between 2017-2023.
Chart showing voting intentions between 2017-2023. (Statista)