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When will the next UK general election be?

Investment Insights • MFN

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When will the next UK general election be?

There is considerable interest in the date of the next UK general election. The Conservative Party is trailing the Labour Party by 18 percentage points in the polls, with the gap widening since 2022. In this Macro Flash Note, economist Joaquin Thul looks at why the next UK election could come as early as May.

Joaquin Thul
Joaquin Thul

Barring any action from the government, by law the next UK general election must take place no longer than 25 working days after the end of the current Parliamentary term in December 2024. However, governments tend to call an election before the end of their term to try to maximize the probability of winning. It is likely that UK Prime Minister (PM) Rishi Sunak is assessing when he will have the highest chance of success against the opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, who is ahead in the polls by 18 percentage points, see Chart 1.1 There is speculation over three potential dates for the next UK general election: 

  • A spring election in May 2024 
  • An autumn election, either in October 2024 or December 2024 
  • Or at the latest possible date, on 28 January 2025 

Chart 1. UK election polls % (average opinion polls since December 2019)


Source: Electoral Calculus and EFGAM. Data as at 26 January 2024.

Spring election in May 2024

To call the election in May, Conservatives would like to narrow the gap with Labour in the polls. One way to achieve this would be to make progress on issues such as immigration, foreign policy or economic growth which were some of PM Sunak’s priorities when he took over as Tory Party leader in October 2022. Success on the pledge to ‘halve inflation by the end of 2023’, the resilience of the UK economy and tightness of the labour market will be things the PM and Chancellor will want to highlight.

It is widely believed that the Chancellor will announce a series of tax cuts at the next budget on 6 March. To fund these cuts, the Chancellor is expected to use a large part of the available fiscal headroom, which the Treasury estimates at around £14 billion, equivalent to 0.6% of GDP.2, 3  This is marginally above the £13 billion available at the last Autumn Statement in November 2023, but much below the historical headroom of approximately £30 billion that UK Chancellors have held against their fiscal rules since 2010, see Chart 2.4

The final figure will be estimated by the Office for Budget Responsibility closer to the March budget, but analysts expect it will not be close to the historical average. Although this could hinder the chances of making a large impact in the polls, it represents one of the last opportunities for the PM and his team to make economic announcements before December. Therefore, it would be reasonable to believe that Conservative Party officials will want to leverage any positive momentum following the budget announcement.

Chart 2. Forecast of fiscal headroom against contemporaneous targets (£ billion)


Source: Office for Budget Responsibility and EFGAM. Data as of 26 January 2024.
(*) UK Treasury estimate

An autumn election

Another option would be to hold an election in the autumn, which would give the PM more time to narrow the polling gap with Labour. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt could prefer to wait until the Autumn budget when he might have built up more fiscal headroom to deploy on tax cuts. However, this could risk seeing a further deterioration in economic activity and a potential defeat of the Conservative Party in the Local elections in May, which could cause reputational damage. Additionally, it is thought that PM Sunak wants to avoid tying the timing of the UK election to that of the US election in November. The increasing odds of a victory for a Donald Trump-led Republican Party in the US election may act against the interests of candidates from the UK Conservative Party. Recent surveys show how radical the US Republican party has become on social issues in comparison to how moderate UK Conservative Party voters now are.5 Therefore, Tory candidates warming up to Donald Trump risk falling out of favor with voters.

Latest possible date

On 17 December 2024 it will be five years since Parliament first met after the last general election. This means that if an election is not called before then, Parliament would be automatically dissolved, and an election would take place 25 working days later, on 28 January 2025. The only benefit from taking this course of action would be providing Conservative Party candidates more time to campaign while hoping that the UK economy does not fall into a deep recession before then. However, campaigning in winter brings difficulties such as bad weather and shorter days, risking lowering the turnout. This would hurt the Conservatives given they tend to have a higher proportion of older voters than the Labour Party.6

Therefore, the odds of a UK general election in May 2024, coinciding with local elections, look to be rising. Civil servants have been asked to prepare for a possible election in the spring and party officials have been given deadlines in early February to finalise their manifestos so that they are ready for the campaign.7

The Conservative Party has a difficult task ahead. Trailing in the polls and with an economy on the verge of recession, PM Sunak needs to time the next election carefully. The upcoming budget represents one of the last chances for the Government to make strong economic announcements ahead of possible election dates. Trying to profit from the potential resulting momentum in May could be their only chance.

1 The formal process to call an early election requires the PM to ask the King to dissolve Parliament, after which the PM announces the date for general election. This starts a period of six weeks before the official poll date.
2 The fiscal headroom is the money available for the Chancellor to spend before breaking the fiscal rules.
4 OBR Economic and Fiscal Outlook – November 2023.
5 Analysis of data from Pew Research, World Values Survey and YouGov.
6 In 2019, Ipsos MORI estimated that Conservatives had a 47-point lead among voters aged 65 and above, while Labour had a 43-point lead amongst voters aged 18-24 and 24-point lead among voters aged 25-34.