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Will there be a snap election in 2016?

Toby-and-Big-Ben1Toby 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.

This article first appeared at All that is Solid



  1. swatantra says:

    No way Jose!
    With Fixed Term Parliaments and a House that is a bit edgy about losing their seats, no MP is going to vote for an early GE, not Tory, not Labour.% Years is too long for a modern Parliament to sit. Cut it down to 4 or even 3 years. MPs must be forced to face their so called electorate and mandate a bit more often, to keep them on their toes and their feet firmly planted in grass roots soil.

  2. David Ellis says:

    If Cameron loses in the referendum he will be a lame duck PM and might well be pushed into a snap election because having supported him in his defeat there would be no way that Labour could win that election whilst there would be no way they could vote against such an election without being seen as frit or by its supporters as collaborators.

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