Notes on the general election

A few notes on the election due now on 12 December…

Under section 1(2) of the Early Parliamentary General Election Bill (due to receive Royal Assent today), the poll ‘is to be treated as a polling day appointed under section 2(7) of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011’. This engages section 1(4) of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, which means that, with an early election taking place after May, the next election takes place four years from the following May. The next election is thus scheduled for May 2024.

The House of Commons will meet on Monday to elect a new Speaker. Whoever is elected will then have to stand in the election as ‘the Speaker seeking re-election’. They will then stand for re-election as Speaker, assuming they are returned at the general election, at the start of the new Parliament. The rationale for electing a Speaker now is that current MPs know the candidates. At the start of a new Parliament, new MPs are essentially unfamiliar with the candidates. Back in 1972, the Procedure Committee did recommend that Speakers retire mid-Parliament. That has not been the uniform practice.

The House of Commons is expected to assemble the week after the election for the purpose of electing a Speaker and for the purpose of swearing-in, with the Queen’s Speech taking place in January. The election of the Speaker on that occasion should be fairly short and formal. It would be a problem if the House opted to elect someone else in January than the person chosen as Speaker next Monday! There would thus be an MP returned as the Speaker seeking re-election who would no longer be Speaker.

Since the start of the 20th Century, there have only been three general elections held in December, all three in the first quarter of the century – 1910 (the second general election of that year), 1918 and 1922. (The 1918 election followed that of 1910.) There were four held in December in the 19th Century.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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6 Responses to Notes on the general election

  1. By my calculation the present parliament would have to dissolve around Thursday 7th November. That means the new speaker will only have two days in office before having to be re-elected again. It also means that three of their first five parliamentary days will be taken up by their own election processes.

    I wonder if the government will bother with a prorogation or if, given that we’ve already had two in as many months plus another royal commission for the speaker’s approbation, they will simply allow this session to be open ended, as last happened in 2001.

  2. Lord Norton says:

    It will be even shorter as both Houses will rise on Tuesday.

    • Lord Norton,
      I am curious as to whether 45 % of the vote is more likely than not to produce a parliamentary majority for the Tories. I am not sure of how the vote is distributed. Do you venture a response ?

  3. DaveH says:

    Perhaps you can cast light on a possible constitutional issue. What happens if the Conservatives get re-elected with a majority but Boris Johnson does not? My understanding is that it is merely convention that the PM should be an MP, but there is no legal requirement for it (the same being true for any minister of the Crown, they ought to be an MP or peer but it is merely a convention, not a legal requirement). On that basis he could continue until they either engineered a by-election for him or went through a leadership process to elect his replacement.

  4. Lord Norton says:

    The Queen follows convention in terms of who she invites to form a government. Formally, the choice of PM is the one prerogative power still exercised on the monarch’s judgment. She can choose whoever she wishes, though by convention chooses the person who can command a majority in the House of Commons. If Boris Johnson loses his seat, he remains as PM – he is PM until such time as he goes to the Palace to resign. There is a precedent for a party leader losing his seat (Balfour in 1906), though the party also lost the election – and one in relatively recent times of the monarch selecting as PM someone who at the time was not in the Commons (the Earl of Home). If Boris Johnson lost his seat, one option would be to follow what happened with Balfour in 1906 and Lord Home (Sir Alec Douglas-Home as be became) in 1963 and that is to get him returned quickly at a by-election.

    • Robin Stanley Taylor says:

      The tightness of the timetable is important to consider here. Using the 1906 example:
      *General election: 12th January – 8th February
      *New parliament assembles: 13th February
      *Alan Gibbs MP resigns: 14th February
      *King’s Speech: 19th February
      *City of London writ moved: 19th February
      *City of London by-election: 27th February

      Balfour was back in the House of Commons just nineteen days after being defeated, and he still missed the state opening. Current law requires that polling day for a by-election be 21 to 27 days after moving the writ, which would mean that Johnson would not return until well into January and so would miss a lot of the crucial withdrawal debates.

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