Fixed term parliaments be damned. Theresa May should go to the country by calling an early General Election.
So said Lord William Hague, former Tory leader, former Foreign Secretary and very definition of a Conservative ‘big beast’ in his Daily Telegraph column yesterday. And in doing so becoming the most senior Tory yet to suggest it’s time for the Prime Minister to break out the ballot boxes again.
Lord Hague is far from the first Conservative to advocate for an early election. The advice/recommendations/demands (delete as applicable) have echoed round Westminster corridors ever since Theresa May succeeded David Cameron last July. And it’s within the PM’s purview to call an election despite the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, as long as two-thirds of the Commons agrees.
For all the rhetoric, and far be it for me to disagree with Lord Hague (although I’m going to), there won’t be an early election. Ain’t going to happen. Commentators have correctly cited Mrs May’s seemingly inherent caution. Granted there are some good reasons for going to the ballot box. But there are equally good reasons not to.
The best reason to call an election is of course the state of the Labour Party. Divided on Europe, and with an apparent disconnect between MPs and part activists, the Party is evidently in profound difficulty. Jeremy Corbyn continues to fair miserably in opinion polls, and there’s no indication whatsoever that Labour in its current state can kick the Conservatives out of Downing Street.
But, the difficulties of Mr Corbyn and Labour aside, an early election would be a timely and costly exercise for a Prime Minister intent on getting on with Brexit. The resulting civil service purdah could severely impact work to extricate the UK from the European Union. And let’s not forget the civil service has been repeatedly cited as lacking the personnel or high level negotiating expertise for Brexit. They need more time not less.
Meanwhile, domestically, while it’s difficult (even nigh impossible) to see Labour making a dent in the Conservative majority, an election could ultimately weaken Theresa May. The Prime Minister is having to manage a range of demands from her backbenchers, and the results of an election could put her in a more difficult position in trying to consolidate the views of Brexiteers and Remainers within her own ranks.
Matt Chorley from The Times’ Red Box has also noted the implications of the Northern Ireland Assembly elections potentially affecting the capacity (and maybe willingness) of the DUP to bolster the Conservatives’ existing majority. Now take that a further step and apply the impact of a Westminster election on Scotland.
Short of seizing the one seat they don’t have from the Conservatives, it’s impossible for the SNP to improve their number of MPs in Westminster. But, make no mistake, an election campaign north of Hadrian’s Wall will be a vote on Brexit in a part of the UK that chose to remain within the EU. An early election would likely do little more than strengthen the hand of Nicola Sturgeon in calling a second Scottish referendum, that the SNP would then have a very real chance of winning. At minimum, it would force the PM to fight battles on multiple fronts, which every military commander since Sun Tzu has advocated against.
And all of this is before the self-evident points that stranger things have happened in elections (Donald Trump anyone?) and it would be the third time in three years Britons have been called to the polls. There is a strong potential for a low turnout, and that would go at least some way to leveling the playing field for other political parties.
So, pick your poison. The impact on Brexit. The inner workings of the Tory Party. The Northern Ireland Assembly. Or the impact on Scotland. It remains a poor time to go to the electorate. Not that the PM’s about to.