Are we heading for a snap general election?

Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg has claimed that a general election would have to be called if Boris Johnson were ousted as prime minister.

Speaking to BBC Two’s Newsnight, the leader of the House of Commons argued that any would-be successor to No. 10 should call an election in order to shore up public support.

Rees-Mogg told Newsnight’s Kirsty Wark last night that the UK had moved to “essentially a presidential system” where the “mandate is personal rather than entirely party”. Therefore, “any prime minister would be very well advised to seek a fresh mandate,” he said.

He looked back at recent precedents, noting that Gordon Brown had failed to call an election until three years after he was handed power by Tony Blair in 2007, commenting: “That didn’t work.”

The next election, in 2010, saw the Labour party lose its majority and finish second behind the Conservatives, ultimately allowing David Cameron to form a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats and become the next Conservative prime minister. 

Rees-Mogg said that, by contrast, Johnson’s decision to call an election five months after he inherited the top job after Theresa May stood down “did work”.

“I think the days of Macmillan taking over from Eden, or even Callaghan taking over from Wilson, no longer get the mood of the constitution – and our constitution evolves. So in my view a change of leader requires a general election,” he said.

The rules

There is no rule or legal requirement that requires a new prime minister to call a general election, and as Rees-Mogg himself has pointed out, “changes of prime minister between elections have been commonplace over the past century”, said The Independent.

The Spectator’s Steerpike accused Rees-Mogg of attempting to “rewrite the British constitution”, and said his view that the UK was now akin to a US-style presidential system was “news” to his Conservative colleagues in Parliament.

Just as there was no election when Brown replaced Blair in 2007, neither did John Major call an immediate election when he took over from Margaret Thatcher in 1990.

Rees-Mogg’s argument has been “echoed in the bars and tea room of Parliament in recent days by other Johnson loyalists” who are hoping to prevent rebel Tory MPs from submitting letters of no confidence in the prime minister, triggering a vote that could decide his political fate, said The Telegraph.

But the argument has also “sparked a backlash in some quarters of the party”, with one Conservative MP calling it “bollocks” and insulting to colleagues, adding that only a “stupid person” would buy it as a reason to keep Johnson in office.

Another called it a “direct attack on Parliament and the need to command support in the Commons” in suggesting that “a direct and personal mandate from the people” is required to govern the country.

When will the next general election be?

The next general election is set for 2 May 2024 if a snap election is not called before then. 

The bookmakers seem sceptical that an election will happen this year, currently offering odds of 14/1 for it to happen in 2022, 7/2 for 2023 and 3/10 for 2024.

The latest polling from Savanta ComRes suggests that Rees-Mogg’s party might not be in a rush to go to the country in a general election. The latest Westminster voting intention has Labour with a nine-point lead over the Conservatives, with Keir Starmer’s party enjoying 41% of the vote share, while Johnson’s scandal-hit government trails behind at 32%.


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