Tuesday 22 May 2018

A Snap General Election in the Autumn?

The Sunday Times (subscription) reports that Tory MPs are preparing for another snap general election as they fear the Brexit deadlock will become insurmountable for the prime minister. The Huffington Post (not subscription), also reported on the Sunday Times story.

Backbench Tory MPs are said to be urging their local parties to re-select them as candidates over the summer so as they will be ready for any snap election. Some are leafleting their constituencies to warm up the electorate. One hard Brexit Tory MP is quoted as saying:

“The numbers are against us and if we face repeated defeats when the withdrawal bill returns to the Commons, the only alternative will be to kick over the table and trigger a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister, which will likely lead to another general election.”

If Theresa May is replaced as prime minister, there is no constitutional reason to force a general election, but the new prime minister would face exactly same problems as May, so there would be pressure to hold a general election. If the vote of confidence was in May’s government, then there would be a need for a general election, unless another party could form a government, which seems unlikely. Although, there is the tantalising possibility of Tory Remain MPs backing a Labour led coalition, to get a soft Brexit, or even not leave the EU at all? 

Other Tory MPs though think that this a bluff from the hard Brexiters to try and force their agenda onto the prime minister, as they see May as trying to achieve a softer Brexit, whether by staying in the customs union and perhaps single market, or by having an extended transition period on exactly the same rules. It would certainly be a big risk to force a general election, as there is no guarantee that the Tories will win it, especially if they appear divided. Will they risk a Corbyn Labour government?

A third general election in four years would be difficult for all of the opposition parties to fund, but the Tories are backed by many wealthy donors and probably wouldn’t find funding too difficult.   

Some opinion polls are showing a small worrying trend towards the Tories increasing their lead over Labour, but we know that the polls were wrong at last year’s general election, so it would be unwise to place too much faith in them. I don’t think the country wants another election at the moment anyway, so those who caused it may well be punished by the voters.

In my opinion, it seems unlikely that a general election will be forced by Brexiter Tory MPs, as the rest of the Tory party will not want to run the risk of Labour winning. But, you have to remember that these head bangers are obsessed with the European Union, and may view the prospects of Corbyn in number 10, as less important than their drive to exit the EU, in the purest possible way.

The judiciary, civil servants, Tory rebel MPs and the House of Lords have all been accused of betrayal of ‘the will of people’ by these Brexiter Tory MPs and their friends in the ring-wing media. Now, it seems as though the prime minister is deemed guilty of the same treachery. Who knows, they may be reckless enough to take this course of action, but it would likely tear the Tory party apart.

They would have to work with Labour and other opposition parties to bring the government down, but again on this one issue perhaps these MPs will countenance it?

I think an early general election is much more likely in 2019, once we have left the EU, although still in some form of transitional arrangement. Some in the Tory party think that we should first leave the EU and then try and change the future arrangement from the outside, and a 2019 general election would suit this kind of strategy.

I do get the impression that we are approaching the end game on Brexit. May reportedly slapped down arch Tory Brexiter Jacob Rees-Mogg in a meeting with Tory MPs last week. Perhaps the Brexiters will feel they have no choice but to bring the government down, but it is a high risk strategy, all the same.  

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