Boris Johnson's future: a new leader would not make a general election inevitable – Ian Swanson

Jacob Rees-Mogg has been warning Tory MPs tempted to help bring down Boris Johnson that ousting him and electing a new leader would inevitably mean a general election.

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He hopes Labour's lead in the polls will make potential rebels think again about staging a coup against the Prime Minister if the result could be them losing their seats.

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The Leader of the House argues the UK now has “essentially a presidential system”, so any new leader would need their own mandate from the electorate.

Of course there is no legal or constitutional requirement for an election and not even a convention that there ought to be one.

But his argument implicitly acknowledges there is a problem with a situation where the 160,000 members of the Conservative Party are responsible for choosing who is the UK's next Prime Minister.

The one and only time this happened before was when Boris Johnson himself was elected to replace Theresa May in 2019. But Mr Rees-Mogg – an enthusiastic Johnson cheerleader – didn't seem to think there was a problem then.

Tory members have voted in leadership contests since 2001, when they chose Iain Duncan Smith, but of course he and Michael Howard and David Cameron were all elected while the party was in opposition.

Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg is an enthusiastic Johnson cheerleader.

And when Mrs May replaced Mr Cameron as Prime Minister there was no need for a vote because, after Tory MPs had whittled the field down to two, Andrea Leadsom, her remaining rival, decided to withdraw.

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Back in 1990, when John Major was chosen to succeed Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street, it was just Tory MPs who voted.

And of course there was a time when Tory leaders – and Prime Ministers – just “emerged”. Not even MPs got a vote. "Soundings" were taken and the powers-that-be decided behind closed doors who should get the job.

So when Anthony Eden succeeded Winston Churchill at Number Ten, and when Harold Macmillan took over from Eden and Sir Alec Douglas Home replaced Macmillan, it all happened by a mysterious process shrouded in secrecy. Eden was the only one who called an immediate general election after being appointed.

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Labour’s Gordon Brown famously nearly opted for an election soon after taking over from Tony Blair in 2007 but decided against when the polls looked bad. He was heavily criticised for calling it off and went on to lose the 2010 general election.

May and Johnson both called general elections – the former after 11 months and the latter after five – but both had previously insisted they were under no obligation to hold one and denied they planned to do so.

And in both cases it was more to do with trying to strengthen their position in parliament than winning a mandate to legitimise their rule. May thought the 2017 election was going to increase the Tories’ slim majority, but instead she lost it altogether and ended up dependent on the Democratic Unionist Party. In 2019, Johnson, frustrated by deadlock at Westminster, set out to win a clear majority to “get Brexit done” and succeeded.

So Tory MPs ready to topple Johnson should not expect an inevitable early general election as a result.

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No new leader will rush to the polls unless they think they can win.

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