Just how often have votes been held in quick succession?by Tom Quinn / December 11, 2017 / Leave a comment
After the indecisive election result in June, the smart money was on Theresa May not lasting the year as prime minister. Labour put itself on alert for an early poll. Since then, the government has been beset by internal divisions while at the same time trying to extricate Britain from the European Union. May’s deal in Brussels last week buys her some time but questions remain over the stability of the government and an early election remains feasible.
Another poll next year would require either a two-thirds majority vote in the House of Commons or a vote of no confidence in the government. Both are unlikely, but an early poll cannot be completely ruled out. But how much precedent is there for rapid-fire general elections? Looking back at political history offers some lessons for today.
There have been numerous occasions when UK general elections were held in quick succession. In 1910, there were elections in January and December, amid a constitutional crisis after the House of Lords had vetoed David Lloyd George’s “people’s budget.” The Liberals lost over 100 seats to the Conservatives in the first vote and a hung parliament resulted.
Although the Liberals were able to carry on with the support of the Irish nationalists, then prime minister, Herbert Asquith, called another election that year to break the deadlock. However, it produced an almost identical result, with another hung parliament and the Liberals dependent on the nationalists. The price the latter extracted for their support was legislation on Irish home rule (ultimately never implemented because of the First World War and later Irish partition).
There were general elections in consecutive years in 1922, 1923 and 1924. The Conservatives won an overall majority in 1922 amid deep divisions among the Liberals and the growth of the Labour Party. The Tory leader, Bonar Law, was taken ill a few months later and Stanley Baldwin became prime minister. Baldwin wanted his own mandate and called an early election on the issue of tariff reform. (This resembled May’s decision to go to the country in 2017 as she sought a mandate for her Brexit negotiating aims.)
Although the Conservatives remained the largest party after the 1923 election, they lost their majority and Baldwin was defeated in a confidence vote. Labour,…