Tired of elections? I’ve got some bad news for you

Theresa May © Getty Images
Theresa May is not so keen on calling an early election, but we may get one anyway

Democracy is a great thing. I’ll argue the point with anyone who says it isn’t. (My main argument being: what do you replace it with, oh wise one?)

But that said, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. And if you live in the UK (and plenty of other places for that matter), you might be a bit sick of voting at the moment.

If so, I’ve got bad news for you – it’s starting to look like we’ll be going to the polls again before too long…

Having a general election in Britain right now would be pretty selfish

As I write this morning, there’s a lot of talk about a snap general election being called in the UK, for 4 May (there are local elections happening that day, so might as well throw in the main deal as well).

The prime minister would need to put it to the House of Commons, because we now have fixed-term parliaments. There she’d have to win the backing of two-thirds of MPs. But that’s probably only a minor hurdle.

Prominent Tories are keen on the move. Earlier this month, William Hague argued that the case for an election in spring is “very strong indeed”. His main concern was getting around the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. He suggested repealing it.

But at the weekend, Labour said they would support such a motion. Labour argue that this is because they want a chance of winning power. In reality, it’s quite possibly the only way that they believes they might be able to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn by the end of this year. Otherwise, despite the hopes of non-Corbynite Labour members, they could drag on as they are until 2020.

Theresa May is apparently not so keen on calling an early election. She apparently reckons that it would be self-serving and that it would create added uncertainty, according to The Daily Telegraph.

And to be honest, I think that’s a remarkably principled stance to take in some ways. I realise that perhaps sounds odd. But think about it.

If May goes to the country now and wins, she gets to claim all kinds of things. She gets to claim that she has a personal mandate (she’s no longer an unelected prime minister, à la Gordon Brown). She gets to claim that she has a mandate for any kind of Brexit she chooses. She gets a bigger majority in Westminster, which makes her life easier on all sorts of levels.

In reality, it’s questionable whether an election victory right now would really represent any of those things.

The main opposition party is in a mess. Regardless of who you would plan to vote for and your own political leanings, you would have to engage in some seriously motivated reasoning to believe that Labour can win a general election this year.

The LibDems can probably make inroads in “remain” areas, but that won’t win them an election. Ukip have been damaged by ongoing infighting and the fact that – with Brexit actually happening – they don’t have much left to campaign on.

So it’s not much of a contest, frankly. There are a lot of people out there who voted “remain”, and who might not even like the Tories that much, who will end up feeling they have little choice if they’re asked to vote in a couple of months’ time.

So you could argue that it’s pretty selfish to call an election now. And I reckon that May has genuinely felt that it’s better to keep things as calm as possible while Article 50 and the like is being dealt with.

However, that might now have changed.

Two things that might have changed May’s mind

The tipping point might be the threat of a new Scottish referendum, along with the Budget debacle.

Both of these things make May look as though she’s being challenged on all sides. And both of them could be tackled by winning a general election.

The SNP can’t really win any more Westminster seats in Scotland. If they lose many (perhaps even any), it would make Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s claims to have a mandate for a second independence referendum a lot more tenuous.

And if May wins a general election handsomely, then she has a personal mandate to tell the snipers in her own backbenches and on the “hard” Brexit side of things to back off and let her get on with the job.

Will these events shift the electoral calculus firmly enough to persuade May to go for it? I’d be very surprised if she’s not weighing it up. If it were me, I’d be sorely tempted. But then, maybe I’m less principled…

Anyway – what would an early general election mean for investors? The pound would probably be up on another rollercoaster. But if you got a Tory landslide, that would point to more certainty, and sterling would probably end the process stronger.

How would it interact with the other elections around Europe? Well, in order to keep Article 50 and the Brexit talks moving along, you’d need to have any UK election done and dusted by the time the German elections came around – that’s September. But if she’s going to go for it, best off doing it as soon as possible.

In fact, if it’s going to happen, I’d expect we’ll hear about it by this time next week, if not beforehand. So one way or another, we’ll soon find out.

  • Ben Stubbens

    Another reason why she might not call a general election is because it would result in Corbyn’s demise. This would bring on a Labour recovery earlier. Perhaps Theresa May would be quite happy watching Labour continue to crumble for the next 3 years

    • ymbhweorfnes

      And if she delivers on Brexit she can expect to pile on the agony to Labour as the “Old Labour” vote abandons them too. Joyous time to see the collapse of illiberal socialism.

  • ymbhweorfnes

    She may be forced to call an election because of the investigation into electoral fraud which could cost her her majority IF the seats all went elsewhere.

  • 4-caster

    I can find no reports that Labour would support a Commons motion to dissolve parliament. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. There must be better ways for moderate Labour MPs to get rid of Corbyn than to collude with Tories to dissolve parliament. Labour is of course making contingency plans.
    Conservative “Remainer” MPs in constituencies that favour Brexit/Brenaissance would also risk defeat, especially if UKIP get their act together.
    Apart from a two thirds majority there is one other way May could get a dissolution. It is by losing a vote of confidence in her government. Even then, dissolution must be delayed by two weeks for the Commons to seek another prime minister who would command its confidence. I cannot see Mrs May risking that.
    If Mrs May, at any stage during the Brexit process, fears defeat in the Commons, she should call MPs’ bluff by making every Brexit motion a vote of confidence.

    • ymbhweorfnes

      UKIP need to stop pratting about and decide what they are. I say focus on *all* constituencies returning a Remoaner MP and hold them to account at local and Westminster elections.

      Continue to put pressure on 3 other fronts:

      1.Reducing immigration and introducing a points-based system
      2.Having a plan to bring the security threat down from SEVERE
      3.Fund the NHS based on per head of population after holding a census

      The 2nd point would necessarily mean tackling integration and cultural issues firmly.

      The 3rd point would be dependent upon a well thought through reform of the NHS, with a return to doctors offering proper call-out again plus weekend surgeries and having named “family doctors” plus re-opening local cottage hospitals especially for out-of-hours cover (which could be attached to GP practices potentially) with local ambulances. Then scrap 111.

      • I think you’re overstating the likely effect of the referendum on a general election quite a bit. 48% of participants voted Remain. By the time you factor in voters who turned out for the referendum but might not bother for a GE, Leave voters may not even represent a majority in the electorate anymore.

        Then you’ve got the split within the party votes. The Tory vote broke quite heavily for Leave, but Remain Tories aren’t likely to abandon the party because of that while it’s otherwise in the ascendant. Similarly, there’s lots of triumphalism based on the assumption that Labour can’t possibly hold their Leave-voting constituencies, but the electoral maths don’t really support that. A large chunk of the Leave vote in those constituencies represents Tory and UKIP voters who would never vote Labour in a million years, so they don’t represent a loss to Labour in an meaningful way. The Labour vote went roughly 60/40 in favour of Remain, so while Labour Leavers could potentially tip a few constituencies away from them, it’s a long way from the wipeout that’s being predicted in some quarters.

        What’s going to do the damage is Corbyn’s incompetence, his disconnection from almost all of the electorate and his bizarre decision to abandon the majority of the Labour vote to the Lib Dems by positioning the party behind Brexit.

        Your ideas for ‘saving’ the NHS are also high fantasy, concocted by someone with no working knowledge of healthcare. I’m not sure where you think all those extra doctors are going to come from in order to provide weekend surgeries. We aren’t training enough of them and the supply from overseas has slowed down to a trickle, with more and more of them going home as conditions and pay improve in their home countries. The fact is, when Cameron’s government started trying to impose expanded out of hours coverage in the last GP contract, a lot of GPs closed their surgeries and became locums, or retired altogether, rather than implement it. The Tories simply don’t know how to respond when the market turns around and bites them on the backside.

        • ymbhweorfnes

          Thank you for taking time to give such a detailed reply. I’ll try to reply briefly:
          1. The 48% includes Scotland. Strip them away and you get a very different story. Plus the SNP simply help block Labour getting power, so no harm for the Conservatives there.
          2. I agree Corbyn is damaging Labour, again that’s good for splitting the anti-Conservative vote further.
          3. Most of my family works in the NHS, so you got that drastically wrong.
          4. Doctors? I didn’t ask for a quick fix, but a permanent solution. Train more in the UK and start now.
          5. None of the parties has any idea how to fix the NHS, and to compound it they pile more patients on top via mass migration.
          Thank you for taking time to read this.

    • I’m not sure why you think many Tory Leavers would vote against Remain Tory MPs when the party is doing well and they’re getting what they wanted. It’s hard to see what UKIP could possibly offer them that they aren’t already getting from the government.

  • One reason it might not be such a good idea to go to the polls right now is the confirmation that Russia are able and willing to interfere with Western elections to a major extent. Maybe we need to review how they’re doing that and devise strategies against it, first?

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