Sunday, 7 February 2016

Will there be a Snap Election in 2016?

Toby Perkins caught the punditocracy unawares last night by floating the possibility of a snap election later on this year. Now hold on a minute, doesn't the Fixed Term Parliaments Act prevent an election from being called at the Prime Minister's convenience? Yes, that's right. Unless two thirds of Parliament think otherwise. Here, Toby sets out the circumstances under which this may happen:
I believe that the forces unleashed within the Conservative party are so great that, whether Cameron wins or loses [the EU referendum], many of their MPs and activists will feel it is time for a change at the top ... In the event that Cameron goes, I expect his successor to look very keenly at whether the Labour party is capable of fighting a snap general election ... If a new Conservative leader demanded a general election it is impossible to imagine how Labour could refuse to go to the country.
So a new Tory leader comes in off the back of EU turmoil and seeks to establish their legitimacy by calling for an election which, they calculate, is a proposition Labour cannot refuse. The Tories believe the political price Labour would pay for not going along with their scheme would make the fall out of Gordon Brown bottling the election-that-never-was look like a mild x-ray. 

I do not buy it.

That the Tories have a huge war chest is common knowledge among politics watchers. It was widely observed prior to the general election that they had resources enough to fight two. However, what they lack is timing. Having an election immediately after a round of local and regional elections, and the EU referendum runs the risk of politics fatigue among the electorate. When moaning and whingeing about the last election "going on too long" was a refrain not unknown to campaigners, a government "forcing" more politics down the public's throat might encourage a layer of anti-political establishment voters to punish the government with bloody minded votes. Also, remember this would come after weeks of inescapable coverage about the Tory leadership contest as well. Second, do not underestimate the jitters of newly-elected Tory MPs. There may be fewer marginal seats as was this time round, but having just arrived in Parliament a segment of the new intake will be loath to go through the stress and uncertainty of another campaign when they still have four years to run.

On the Labour side, as Toby notes the party is ill-prepared, despite now moving into war footing for the other elections taking place. Any damage the Tories hope to inflict on Labour for refusing an early election would, because of the fatigue factor, likely to be slight. And, as many MPs are convinced that the party presently constituted is not palatable as an electoral alternative, the chances they would vote for what they think might be an early departure from the green benches aren't great. Wearing a more cynical hat, however, for some on the right of the party an early election followed by a heavy defeat would, to their mind, mean the end of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership and the notion a hard left platform can beat the Tories.

While Toby is right that the party should tool up, the likely balance of politics after May/June and the interests of all concerned make a general election a remote prospect. It's best to concentrate on the ones immediately in front of us, not phantoms of futures unlikely to arrive.

7 comments:

Mick Wall said...

I agree that it's unlikely that 2/3 of MPs would vote for a snap election, with the 59 Scottish MPs in particular being unlikely to want another vote, after all, what would they stand to gain?

The Tories may want to bankrupt Labour but I think it implausible that so early in a five year fixed term they would want to spend any significant amount on the chance that they would strengthen their majority, they are just not popular enough to do that.

Speedy said...

This won't happen - you have to understand that the current government is planning its policy based on the assumption that the next general election is a given.

This means that in terms of implementing policy it will maximise its time in government: ie, if there was a snap election next year it would reduce the CERTAINTY of Tory administration by around three years.

The Conservatives are currently planning policy on the assumption of 10 years, and probability of 15. Winning elections is no longer a priority for them - the next election is already won. They can now build on the foundations of the first, yellow-streaked, five years to implement a decade, and probably more, of true blue policy, from education and health to taxes, defense and electoral boundaries.

When the next Labour/ Liberal/ Green government comes to power in around 15 years from now, they will inherit a nation far further to the right, and the days of New Labour will seem like an impossible socialist dream.

Phil said...

I think you're right about the politics, but the mechanics of dissolving Parliament are simpler than you (or Toby) think.

Under the FTPA, a government can be brought down by a vote of no confidence. This in itself doesn't trigger an election, as the Queen(!) will then see if any other politician can command a majority of the House. If not, then we go to an election.

So all it would take would be for a vote of no confidence to be moved by the Tories (and whipped, obviously). Corbyn would put Labour's programme to the House, the Tory majority would reject it, and bingo - early election.

If this constitutional jiggery-pokery alienated enough principled Tories to give Labour a majority, clearly wackiness would ensue. But the chances of this happening with Corbyn as leader of the party are small.

David Parry said...

'The Conservatives are currently planning policy on the assumption of 10 years, and probability of 15. Winning elections is no longer a priority for them - the next election is already won. They can now build on the foundations of the first, yellow-streaked, five years to implement a decade, and probably more, of true blue policy, from education and health to taxes, defense and electoral boundaries.'

Well, any chance of that depends on whether there's another economic crisis on the scale of the last one, a second civil war within the Tory party over Europe, some combination of the two or some other major calamity altogether, all of which are far from certain but none of which can be ruled either. Should any of them happen, then the further 10-15 years of Tory rule that you've predicted will be cut well short.

Speedy said...

David Parry, neither a second economic crisis nor a civil war within the Tory Party are likely to make a Conservative government any less likely, for all the wishful thinking by the left.

British voters are instinctively far more likely to go with a Tory party than Euro-Leftists in the circumstances of the former, as they have in the past, and no one outside the Tory party gives a shit about the Euro biz.

I suppose you can dream of an economic collapse of Greek proportions, but the chances are people will still go with what they know.

Basically what you are saying is - if something massive happens completely out of the blue no one expects that discredits the Tory party and drives the people, including many former Tory voters, into the arms of Corbyn's Labour, then that assumption hasn't got a leg to stand on.

Well, yes...

David Parry said...

'David Parry, neither a second economic crisis nor a civil war within the Tory Party are likely to make a Conservative government any less likely, for all the wishful thinking by the left.'

History suggests otherwise. Divided parties simply don't have a track record of winning elections, and indeed lose them pretty heavily. As for the economy, parties that are not perceived as trustworthy in terms of economic competence don't win elections either. What happens when an economic crisis occurs is that, fairly or unfairly, the reputation on economic competence of the governing party takes a significant hit. If the crisis is severe enough then the damage sustained by the governing party to its reputation on economic competence will be such as to cost the governing party the subsequent general election, as happened in 2010.

'no one outside the Tory party gives a shit about the Euro biz.'

Civil wars within parties that are over an issue that relatively few people care about are, in their own way, just as damaging to the party in question as those that are about issues that most people are concerned with, precisely because the party in question is seen by the majority as being obsessed with an issue that they don't give a shit about at the expense of issues that they do care about.

This is, I believe, why the civil war within the Tories over Europe from the mid 1990s was instrumental in their defeat at the 1997 general election. The Tories had made themselves unelectable at that election, and part of the reason for that was that their unremitting indulgence in petty squabbling over Europe had meant that they ceased to be seen to care about the issues that people actually gave a damn about.

Gary Elsby said...

The one thing about the next election is that it will be the election that is a long time overdue by probably 25 years or more.

One huge sort-out both internally (Tory and Labour) and externally for the Country in a direction considered a fore-gone conclusion by many with just as many (if not more) tipping it over the edge the other way.

Both Major political parties are limping along and hindered by shirkers wishing for isolation and politics of yester-year.

My view is that a new direction is wanted by both parties and for a new(er) future and the quicker we have this cull, the better.

I will be selling mini guillotines @ 2 a fiver!