Labour leads call for general election to give Britain 'fresh start'

Opinion polls show surging support for main opposition party

Labour MPs are calling for an early general election in the UK after Liz Truss resigned as Conservative Party leader. AFP
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Liz Truss’s resignation as leader of the Conservative Party and the announcement of a new prime minister expected within a week has prompted a fresh round of calls for a general election in the UK.

The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer, said an election would be the only way to give the country a “fresh start” following weeks of chaos that has blighted the Conservative government.

The Tory MP who is parachuted in to take Ms Truss’s place in No 10 Downing Street will take up office without a mandate from the British public, making their position difficult from the start.

Ms Truss, who has agreed to stay on in No 10 until her successor is found, was not elected by a UK-wide vote. She won the Tory crown in a ballot of Conservative Party members in August, beating her rival Rishi Sunak.

Another such vote looks unlikely to take place to decide who should replace her, given the tight time frame.

Tory MPs are therefore expected to choose their next leader. In the unlikely event that a poll of party members is held, it would probably be done online instead of through the traditional mailing method.

Any prime minister who takes up office between elections has a difficult time maintaining support for their policies, given that they have not been approved of by the electorate.

Labour has led calls for an early general election, with recent opinion polls predicting a huge swing to the main opposition party and major losses for the Tories. The Labour Party has not been in power for 12 years.

The last general election took place in December 2019 and was called the “Brexit election”, with the Tories winning by landslide on the back of Boris Johnson’s bid to strike a deal with the EU.

The next election is scheduled to be held by January 2025.

Sir Keir on Thursday said recent events in government have made it clear that the Conservative Party “no longer has a mandate to govern”.

“The British public deserve a proper say on the country’s future,” he said, after Ms Truss delivered her resignation speech in Downing Street.

“They must have the chance to compare the Tories’ chaos with Labour’s plans to sort out their mess, grow the economy for working people and rebuild the country for a fairer, greener future. We must have a chance at a fresh start. We need a general election — now.”

David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary, said it would be unacceptable for Tory politicians to choose the next Prime Minister.

“The idea that it’s acceptable that 357 Conservative members of Parliament choose our 3rd PM in as many months is unacceptable,” he tweeted. “We need a general election NOW.”

His words were echoed by Emily Thornberry, the shadow attorney general, who said an election “is the only thing that we should have”.

“They can’t patch this up, they have caused a crisis,” she said of the ruling Conservatives.

“This crisis was made in Downing Street, working people are paying the price and we need a government that people can trust.

“The only way we’re going to get any order or sense is to have a Labour government.

“We should have a general election, let the people choose. ”.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's first minister, said a general election “is a democratic imperative”.

She slammed the upheaval in Downing Street, saying “there are no words to describe this utter shambles adequately”, and said the saga was “beyond hyperbole and parody”.

Ms Sturgeon, who earlier this week set out her master plan to take Scotland out of the UK and bring it into the EU, said “ordinary people are paying the price” for Britain's political instability.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey also called for a general election. In a tweet, he said “we don’t need another Conservative prime minister lurching from crisis to crisis” but a public vote to get the ruling party “out of power”.

The latest polls put Labour on 36 points ahead of the Tories — the highest lead on record.

The steep surge in support for Labour and increasing chances of a general election will spook many Conservative MPs, especially those who have slim majorities.

Caroline Nokes, MP for Romsey and Southampton North, who has a majority of 10,872, declined to comment on what may lie ahead.

“It’s too early for me to say anything,” she told The National on Thursday, following Ms Truss's resignation speech.

Mr Johnson, who resigned as Tory party leader in July after a mass walkout of his Cabinet, is reportedly considering a bid to replace Ms Truss.

Mr Sunak, who won more support than Ms Truss in early knockout rounds of last summer’s contest, is also widely tipped to throw his hat in the ring again.

Jeremy Hunt, who was last week appointed chancellor, has ruled out a leadership bid.

Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the influential 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, said it was his intention to have Tory party members involved in the process of picking the next prime minister.

He declined to say whether he believed one or two candidates would be likely to put themselves forward. “The party rules say there will be two candidates unless there is only one candidate,” he said.

Asked what happens if one candidate drops out, Sir Graham said: “If there is only one candidate, there is only one candidate.”

The five candidates vying to replace Liz Truss — in pictures

Updated: October 20, 2022, 3:38 PM