OK, so it’s August. The holiday season is here. The Ashes is upon us. The new football season is merely days away. New winners of Love Island have been crowned (no, me neither). And Parliament is in recess.
But alas, politics is not taking a break. The election of Boris Johnson, poll bounce and all, as Prime Minister has led to fresh talk of an imminent General Election. As we pack up our buckets and spades and head to the nearest beach in what is becoming an annual occurrence, Senior Researcher Mike Hough dissects whether there is any substance in these rumours, and whether we should all be planning our canvassing routes.
WHY, OH WHY?
Arithmetic, mainly. Yes that subject you studied all those years ago at school but never thought would really come in handy. Former President Lyndon B Johnson said: “the first rule of politics was to be able to count.”
Well, if you do your counting, the numbers are not on Boris Johnson’s side. The Prime Minister has a working majority of just one. That includes the fragile alliance with the DUP. And some disgruntled ex-Ministers following last week’s brutal reshuffle. We’re looking at you Messrs Hammond, Gauke and Stewart. These are not sustainable numbers to govern with. A new Prime Minister boosted by a poll bounce (some recent polls now show the Tories with a 10% lead) could seek to go to the country to improve this arithmetic. The appointment of the controversial Leave campaigner Dom Cummings (famously played by Benedict Cumberbatch in Channel 4’s drama Brexit: The Uncivil War) and punchy campaigning ministers like Dom Raab and Priti Patel has played into this narrative. But, it is not always that straightforward. Just ask Theresa!
WILL IT HAPPEN?
So, there are really two options for getting to a General Election. First, the pre-emptive strike by team Johnson and second, Parliament taking him there kicking and screaming.
Let’s first consider the preemptive move. Team Johnson is adamant they do not want a General Election before Brexit is delivered. Any General Election before then spells danger for the Tories. The party was heavily punished in the European Elections and could face a similar drubbing again with voters furious at their failure to deliver Brexit.
The Government has been putting out a series of suspiciously ‘retail’ politics style announcements (see extra funding for NHS). It appears to be setting its sights on a 2020 Spring Election. The argument for a Spring 2020 election goes something like this… By the Spring, Boris will have ‘delivered’ Brexit. The Brexit vote will have returned to the Tory Party. And the party will be on course for a majority. Especially with Remain support so fragmented.
But will they even get to this stage? They could come a cropper before then via the second option, a vote of No Confidence in the Government from Parliament. This would occur when No Deal becomes the likely outcome and all other options are exhausted. For this vote to be successful (even a successful vote might not prevent No Deal according to recent leaked legal advice), a ‘Remain Alliance’ of rebel Tories, ChangeUK, Lib Dems, SNP and Corbyn’s Labour would all have to group together. A few Tories (Dominic Grieve, Ken Clarke) have recently indicated they *might* be prepared to do this.
OK, so here is the really nerdy part. The mechanics of such a vote. If a vote of No Confidence is passed, there is then a 14 day period, within which a new Government has to be formed. In this instance, maybe a Government of National Unity? Any such new Government would have to pass a confidence motion. However more likely is that a new Government is not formed or cannot pass such a vote and then we would have a General Election. Probably at the end of October or the beginning of November
So potentially a General Election in the Winter or …
A SECOND REFERENDUM?
There is of course one other way to break the impasse. A second referendum. A confirmatory vote. A People’s Vote. Or whatever the focus groups are suggesting is an appropriate name these days.
Two problems. Arithmetic (yes, again) and timing. There are not the numbers in Parliament for a new vote. 25 Labour backbenchers have already written to Jeremy Corbyn suggesting they cannot support this position. The perceived wisdom is that behind the scenes, the numbers are greater as well. That means you need churn from the Tory side. Although some are moving in that direction, it looks like nowhere near enough. We do not see this changing in the near future in this Parliament, regardless of what the more enthusiastic backers of this proposal say publicly. We would make the same argument for any pro-revoke case.
Timing. The law is clear at present. We are leaving the European Union on the 31st October. In order to secure a new referendum, fresh legislation would be needed. It is unlikely this would come from this Government. Therefore you would need a new Government. This would only be achieved through a General Election. The only prospect for a second referendum is after a General Election and under a new Parliament and Prime Minister and the road does not look long enough for all that to happen before Halloween.
BUT I WANT A BREAK
I know. What everybody (or at least normal people and not us political nerds) wants is for politics to calm down. There is no overwhelming desire for a General Election in the country. The country wants a break from politics. However, that does not mean it will happen.
The numbers in Parliament are not sustainable. The situation cannot keep going on like this. A Prime Minister determined to deliver Brexit, even a No Deal Brexit, but a Parliament that appears set against it. And the European Union who insist the negotiation is over?
Look out for new polling cards pretty soon, we think!