Friday, 23 November 2018

The Coming UK General Election

Despite what you may have been led to believe by, strangely, a combination of John McDonnell and the mainstream media, a general election in the UK is not highly unlikely. It is, in fact, very possible.

Under the Fixed Term Parliament Act of 2011, an early election is granted if two-thirds of the House of Commons vote for it. This is what happened in 2017. But that is not the only way. As the Wikipedia entry on the Fixed Term Parliament Act explains:

Section 2 of the Act also provides for two ways in which a general election can be held before the end of this five-year period:
  • If the House of Commons, with the support of two thirds of its total membership (including vacant seats), resolves "That there shall be an early parliamentary general election".

It’s important to differentiate between the aim of the Tory right for a no confidence vote in Theresa May as Tory leader – which would mean she would no longer be Prime Minister but the government would remain in place – and a no confidence vote in the House of Commons which would mean the government falling. In 1990 John Major replaced Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister after enough Tory MPs didn’t support her, but the government itself just carried on.

Should May’s deal not be supported by the House of Commons, which looks probable, Labour will table a motion of no confidence. This is – lest we forget – a minority government so even if all Tory MPs vote in support it would still lose – theoretically, assuming all opposition MPs vote against. Everything depends on what the DUP does* or whether the odd Lib Dem or Labour MP can be prised away. It’s possible it would stagger over the line. But if May does lose the no confidence vote and no alternative government can be formed in two weeks, a general election is mandatory.

If the right of the Tory party was that cynical – which it is – it would vote against May’s deal, then support the government in the no-confidence vote, hoping it scrapes home. And then replace May in an internal party coup á la Thatcher and Major. With this government unable to negotiate a new deal, it would probably try and extend the transition period, which is not the same as Article 50, for as long as possible. But there would be no election.

However, any opportunity for the Labour party to force a General Election should be taken. We desperately need a radical change of direction on multiple fronts. This is a country where 1 in 200 people are homeless (and that is almost certainly an underestimate). The assumption would be that the EU will agree to extend Article 50 because a new government with an actual mandate (unlike with the current government or anything that can be conjured from existing Parliamentary arithmetic) constitutes an exceptional circumstance.

There is one other slight possibility. That is the May government, which has utterly ruled out a second referendum, changes its mind if it loses the vote on its ‘deal’ in the Commons and calls a referendum. The question would undoubtedly be the May deal or Remain. The government would secretly hope to lose (Remain would win). And there would be no election – the government would continue just as the Conservatives did in 2016 after the original referendum, as if the last few years were just a bad dream. But the possibility of enormous civil unrest is real given that many millions of people would not want either option.

We need an election.

* The DUP has a 'confidence and supply' agreement with the Conservatives. It's widely assumed that they would support Theresa May under any circumstances because the thought of a Corbyn-led Labour government is intolerable. But DUP leader Arlene Foster has said May's Brexit deal is more of threat than a Corbyn government. So whether the DUP would support May in a no-confidence vote is definitely an open question.


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