After Theresa May announced her resignation as Conservative Party leader, the hunt for a new leader, who will also happen to become the United Kingdom’s new prime minister, began.
While the new prime minister won’t be required to hold a general election until 2022 at the latest, with the Conservative Party not holding an outright majority and with the Tories likely to be taking a different stance on certain political issues, there could be strong demand for another general election.
It’s very much in the balance as to when the next election will be held. Election betting odds suggest that if we don’t have one in 201
What does history tell us?
A look back at the last 30 years of British politics highlights that it’s not uncommon for politicians selected to become the new party leader and prime minister by party members to not hold a general election immediately.
Back in November 1990, Margaret Thatcher resigned leading to a leadership contest which would determine the new prime minister. John Major was the man who took the helm of both the Conservative Party and the country just six days after Thatcher resigned.
At the time of his promotion to prime minister, there was just 18 months left before the government had to hold a general election. Despite Labour leader Neil Kinnock’s best efforts to get the Tories to call for an early election, it failed to materialise. The election was called in April 1992 and, despite issues in the country, Major managed to win it, surprising many pollsters.
The Tories aren’t the only ones to have held onto power after changing leader, as the Labour Party did so in 2007 following the resignation of Prime Minister Tony Blair. Gordon Brown was voted as his successor by Labour Party members and he remained as prime minister until May 2010, when the parliamentary term ended, forcing a general election. Labour subsequently lost the election, with the Conservatives forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.
Theresa May’s initial reign as prime minister began when Conservative Party members voted her to become the new leader following David Cameron’s resignation in 2016. His resignation came after the UK voted to leave the EU in the referendum.
As ever, there were calls from the Labour Party for May to call an election. The leader of Labour, Jeremy Corbyn, got his wish less than a year later when May, despite saying she wouldn’t call a snap election, called a snap election in April 2017, with the election itself taking place in June 2017.
Although Labour made some considerable gains under Corbyn, it wasn’t enough to become the single biggest party. With no majority for any party, May sought to form a new government with the help of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party in a confidence-and-supply arrangement.
Will we see another election soon?
The fact that the Conservatives don’t have an outright majority might just push the new leader to call for a general election. Whether that’s before or after Brexit is delivered is another matter entirely.
Brexit has really muddied the waters in British politics and it makes it more unclear as to what will happen regarding the next general election. Depending on who takes charge of the country at such a volatile time, they could hold a general election to try to increase the Conservative Party majority and force through their vision of Brexit – whatever that may be.
But the House of Commons has proven a tough nut to crack in recent months, and the new prime minister will be aware that a Conservative Party majority in the Commons might not equal a majority for a certain type of Brexit.
Public opinion may play a role in determining the next move from whoever takes over. Should the Conservatives see a vast improvement in the polling, then the new leader might see it as the perfect opportunity to try their luck. Anything less than a big improvement is likely to see the successor play it safe and try to wait until 2022 for an election.
An alternative could be for the new leader to seek yet another extension from the EU, but with the promise of holding another referendum. Although this might not be popular amongst many members of parliament, it might just provide a clearer view of what the British public would like to now do with the more of the facts surrounding Brexit now known.
Unfortunately for the country, there are no laws which say that when a new prime minister is decided by the party members, a general election must be held immediately. Of course they should seek a democratic mandate, but with the Tories currently looking weak in the polls, the new leader is unlikely to want to risk further damage to seat numbers.