The resignation of Liz Truss on Thursday after a disastrous six-week premiership has set the ball rolling on the race to be the next Conservative Party leader.
A new leader, who as head of the largest party in the House of Commons becomes Britain’s prime minister, is expected to be announced on Friday October 28, according to the Conservative Party official responsible for the process.
The opposition Labour Party, which opinion polls put on course for a landslide victory, immediately demanded an early general election.
“After 12 years of Tory failure, the British people deserve so much better than this revolving door of chaos,” its leader Keir Starmer said after Truss resigned. “We need a general election, now.”
But a fresh election is no certainty, even as Britain prepares for its fifth leader in just over six years.
Instead, the Conservative Party is about to pick its third leader since the last general election in 2019.
Whereas the last Conservative leadership election took almost two months – longer than Truss will spend as prime minister – the next one will be swift.
Graham Brady, leader of the 1922 Committee, which represents rank-and-file Conservative members of parliament, announced that the new leader will be chosen by next Friday.
The candidates to replace Truss will need at least 100 nominations from Conservative MPs, Brady said. Requiring 100 endorsements to proceed in the race effectively narrows the field of potential candidates to a maximum of three.
In the event that only one candidate emerges, there could be a new party leader and prime minster by Monday, Brady said.
But if more than one candidate crosses this threshold, they will be put to the party membership in a quick online ballot, with the new Prime Minister announced next Friday.
The contest will conclude in time for a crucial economic statement by Britain’s finance minister, set for October 31.
Two more years?
“The Tories cannot respond to their latest shambles by yet again simply clicking their fingers and shuffling the people at the top without the consent of the British people,” Starmer said in a statement Thursday.
Yet the British people may still have two years to wait before they can give their consent at the next general election.
As long as the government can command the confidence of the House of Commons, it can decide when to call an election. For all their turmoil, the Conservatives have a healthy working majority of 71 in Parliament and it’s unlikely their MPs would voluntarily opt for an election that could see them lose their jobs.
Currently, the Conservatives are trailing Labour in opinion polls by virtually historic levels, indicating a near wipe-out for the party.
Although many Conservative lawmakers have voiced their despair at the state of their party, it remains to be seen whether enough of them would join Labour in a potential vote for a general election – since many of these Tory MPs would effectively be voting themselves out of a job.
The next nationwide poll does not need to take place until January 2025 at the latest, and has been generally expected to occur in mid-2024, which is the time of the year that general elections usually take place in Britain.
A government needs Parliament to green-light plans for a new vote, and as soon as that happens a six-week election campaign period begins.
But the issue of a general election is certain to dominate British politics and dog the new prime minister, given the whirlwind of changes at the heart of government since the last vote.