Can a Snap General Election Be Called?

Man VotingIf there’s one thing that the UK doesn’t need as it heads into its worst economic crisis in more than a decade is political instability and chaos.

But that’s exactly what we’re getting after Liz Truss decided today was the day to sack Kwasi Kwarteng as chancellor.

His 38-day stint at 11 Downing Street was mired in controversy after his mini-budget effectively caused the value of the Pound Sterling to tank, with unfunded tax cuts also forcing the Bank of England to intervene with another raft of interest rate rises.

The prime minister has already moved to replace Kwarteng with Jeremy Hunt, a politician considered a safe pair of hands amongst many in Whitehall, but who now faces the unenviable job of putting out the fires that his predecessor lit with a series of nonsensical decisions.

Truss has performed a second U-turn on the shambolic mini-budget to implement a 6% increase in corporation tax – a move steadfastly ruled out by Kwarteng, and it’s this raft of about-faces that has made the PM’s reign almost untenable before it has really even begun.

A number of bookmakers have slashed the odds on Truss being booted out of 10 Downing Street at some point in 2022, and so much so she’s now odds-on with a number of major firms.

That, of course, would trigger another leadership battle….and onward the downward spiral continues. So would another deposed prime minister lead to an automatic snap election?

A Public Liability

The issue when any unelected prime minister or politician takes up their role is that they simply don’t have the support of the voting public UNTIL they have won an election.

That can make it very difficult for a PM like Truss to swim against the tide, knowing that many in her own political party didn’t want her to have the top job, let alone the electorate.

It’s not unusual for a general election to be called in these scenarios. It happened in 2017 when Theresa May, keen to establish her footing as PM, would go on to lose 13 Conservative seats and effectively sound the death knell for her own time in office.

And in 2019, Boris Johnson demolished Jeremy Corbyn in an unscheduled election to frank his own efforts as PM and effectively force through his Brexit withdrawal agreement.

Generally, a snap election is called by the incumbent political party, and so they only tend to do so when they are confident of a handsome victory – hence why May was on borrowed time when voters made their feelings clear over her handling of the withdrawal from the EU.

As things stand, we wouldn’t have another general election in the UK until 2025….unless other parties get involved first.

Who Can Call for a General Election?

Once upon a time, the prime minister was in a position of absolute power – only they could call for an early general election.

However, that temporarily changed in 2011 when a new law was introduced that allowed the House of Commons to vote on an early election if it saw fit.

But, true to form, the Tories campaigned for that power to be revoked, and earlier this year the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022 was introduced. That means that, right now, only Truss could call for an early general election….and having seen the polls, that’s unlikely to be happening any time soon.

There is a possibility that the House of Commons could call a vote of no confidence in the government, or two-thirds of all MPs – including Conservatives – vote for an early election.

Can King Charles Call for an Election?

Generally speaking, the stance of the Royal Family has been not to get involved in politics. They need to be seen as impartial.

That was tested this week when Truss visited King Charles, who gave her – shall we say – a less than warm reception.

But there is no real mechanism for King Charles or any member of the Royal Family to call for a general election, although they can – in theory – sack a PM, as was the case back in 1834 when King William IV gave the boot to Lord Melbourne.