Who can call a general election? UK rules as Tories in 'death spiral'


    Conservative party members will elect a new Prime Minister this week after Liz Truss resigned this afternoon, stating she cannot deliver her mandate. The historic resignation makes her the shortest-serving PM in British history, igniting calls for a general election. With the Tories damaged, there are several possible avenues to a new national ballot.

    Who can call a general election?

    MPs, celebrities and the general public have all mounted calls for a general election in the past week, and that desire has only deepened today. 

    With a new Prime Minister comes a new Cabinet, with the vital Great Offices of State in flux once more. 

    There are several avenues to a general election, the quickest of which is via the Prime Minister herself.

    Liz Truss

    Boris Johnson’s Government broadened the powers afforded to the Prime Minister when it comes to a general election. 

    The ex-PM repealed the Fixed-Term Parliament Act (FTPA) in March, which limited the occasions the UK could hold a general election outside earmarked voting years.

    While Ms Truss has resigned, she retains the power of the Prime Minister for another week. 

    The FTPA only allowed off-timetable national ballots if two-thirds of the House of Commons voted for one, or the Government lost a vote of no confidence and MPs couldn’t settle on a replacement in the following 14 days.

    The Prime Minister can dissolve Parliament now call a general election “at a time of their choosing”.

    But whether or not they have this right depends on the British sovereign.

    King Charles III

    If Ms Truss wishes to hold a general election, she must first meet with King Charles III.

    Only he can grant her request to dissolve Parliament before its latest term ends in December 2024.

    The King cannot act without the Prime Minister’s request, meaning he is unable to call an election on his own.

    While there is some debate around the subject, the sovereign likely can’t fire the Prime Minister either.

    The last time this happened was in 1834, when King William IV dismissed Whig Prime Minister Lord Melbourne.


    As the official opposition, Labour is a vital force in the UK’s Parliamentary democracy.

    The party, therefore, has the ability to initiate proceedings that could lead to a general election.

    But it can only act within Parliament’s rules by calling a confidence vote.

    These may take the form of explicitly worded no-confidence motions, a vote the Government has clarified is a “matter of confidence” or implicit votes on vital documents like the Queen’s Speech or Chancellor’s budget.

    Losing any of these would usually require the Prime Minister to resign or request a dissolution from the King, thus triggering a general election.

    Can the public force a general election?

    While the public is solely responsible for deciding the outcome of a general election, regular Britons cannot force one to take place.

    The electorate has little power when it comes to deciding official business, but those who want an election can express their wish.

    People can either write to their MP and encourage them to take action, or create a petition.

    The House of Commons allows regular Britons to communicate with officials at the Cabinet Office via its petition.parliament.uk system.

    Petitions with 10,000 signatures receive an official response, while 100,000 results in consideration for a Parliamentary debate.

    A 2016 petition called for Parliament to consider allowing the public to call a general election.

    But it closed with 14,178 signatures, receiving a Government response restating rules laid out by the FTPA.

    When is the next general election?

    If all else fails, people will have to sit back and wait for the next scheduled general election.

    Mr Johnson’s Government received a five-year mandate in 2019 that started when Parliament sat for the first time on December 17.

    The mandate runs out on the same day in 2024, and the incumbent Government must call a new one within the next 25 days.

    That schedule would see the next countrywide ballot some time in January 2025.

    But there are other routes that could force the Prime Minister or her Party to declare one early.

    Conservative votes of no confidence

    Conservatives, like other Parliamentary parties, have a system that allows them to officially express discontent with a leader.

    The leading 1922 Committee may receive letters of no confidence from members, and if these breach a certain threshold, they result in a vote of no confidence.

    The current threshold is 15 percent, roughly 53 of the 357 Tory MPs, and Ms Truss would need support from more than 50 percent – around 178 – to stay on, otherwise the party elects a new leader.

    New Prime Ministers are immune from leadership challenges for a full year after their election, but the 1922 Committee can change the rules with a vote.

    Leadership races are not general elections, but, changing leaders twice in a year makes one more likely.


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