May May Go to The Country in May?

Parliament is abuzz with rumours of a General Election in May 2017. Perhaps we should stop and think of all the reasons why this might not happen before taking the excitement at face value. The rumours tend to come from Tories who see their opponents on the floor and May more popular than their own Party, from the Labour Right seeing an election loss as their only chance of getting rid of Jeremy Corbyn quickly and from Nationalists and Liberal Democrats hoping to pick up Remainer votes while emotions are still raw. The political class seems to want one thing the Prime Minister another.

Of course, she may go ahead. Her claim to stand firm may wobble on the collapse of UKIP and the problems of Labour but think on these aspects of the case! The first is simply administrative. On March 29th, Article 50 will be triggered. An intense period of negotiation is required on many fronts - to get the best deal with the European Union, to maintain the Union within the United Kingdom and to set up a number of important trade deals of which that with the US is only the most prominent. Holding an election is wasting months on a distraction to suit the agenda of others.

But, though she is an administrator, she is also a politician. Political considerations suggest that, of all the times she could go to the country betwen now and 2020, there is really no reason to rush on the spurious argument that Gordon Brown lived to regret his own delay in seeking a personal electoral mandate. It is a judgement and a fine one but, if her legacy is to be a successful Brexit, there are more risks in having a Brexit election that would expose Tory divisions on her strategy for negotiation (and encourage EU dabbling) than in ploughing on and asking for a mandate on a deal in 2019.

There are other considerations. Her majority is not great but, so far, it has stayed loyal. There are no signs of an organised rebel claque ready to trigger a crisis because opinion leaders in the Evening Standard tell them to employing the standard codes of the British ruling class. It pays her not to try to second-guess potential rebels now but rather to wait, listen, negotiate overseas, present her case and then, if the majority dwindles on attrition (including the electoral expenses scandal) or on rebellion, go to the people later, asking for their help to get things through against her own rebels.

The argument that the Labour Party is so busted at the moment that winning a bigger majority would be like taking candy from a baby forgets that her popularity arises in part not because she is Tory but because she is not Jeremy Corbyn. The expected devastating loss for Labour from an election conducted during a probable party civil war would merely enable the conditions for either a replacement who would be more challenging on Brexit or for a progressive alliance of Labour Right and Liberal Democrats that would launch itself on a re-energised Remain vote and so take Tory votes.

On Scotland too, the Tory Conservatives are gaining ground as an increasingly safe pair of hands for both those nervous of the SNP strategy of swapping one type of hegemony (British) for another (European), rather than offering true independence, and for those who are committed to the Union. There is a chance here for May to rebuild the Tory Party in Scotland while Labour is weak in its old heartlands - but it is a strategy that requires time. We would guess a 'back me' election later is still on the cards on a Tory rebellion or on a final deal but May 2017 seems premature on many grounds.

 

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