June 27, 2016 by Paul Goldsmith
If you thought we were done with major political decisions until 2020, you’ve got another think coming. Whoever the Tories elect as their new leader, and thus Prime Minister, should, for both democratic and political reasons, call a General Election immediately.
The reason for this are as follows:
Firstly, the vote to leave is a material change in the situation our country is in. In requires a strategy for the renegotiation of our place in the world that ideally will be endorsed by the British people through the doctrine of the manifesto (the document political parties produce at elections which lists policies that, should they be in government, they have a mandate to implement).
Secondly, about 500 MPs supported the Remain side in this referendum and are not going to be comfortable blindly supporting the provisions that have to be put in place in terms of treaty agreements to leave the EU. Therefore, some of them need to consider their position in Parliament and may welcome a chance to do so. Effectively, Parliament is officially at odds with the people over an incredibly important issue (the way we are governed), and as our representatives, that may not be a tenable situation.
Thirdly, and this is political, the Labour Party are in what I shall call electability turmoil. If Jeremy Corbyn is still in place as leader when the new Conservative PM walks into 10 Downing Street, they would be mad not to walk straight out again and call an election, because the Tories would not just win, they would extend their majority by a long way. Even if Corbyn is defenestrated, which looks possible this week in terms of at least the possibility of also having a Labour leadership election, the replacement, should there be one (and the members might still re-elect Corbyn, will still be unlikely to be someone swing voters will move to. The Party isn’t ready to elect Dan Jarvis, Chuka Umuna, David Miliband (if he comes back), yet as they are too “right wing” but the electorate just isn’t where the party is at the moment. So the Conservatives have a chance to extend their majority and extend their time in Government until at least 2022 if a General election is called now.
Fourthly – and this is about a combination of our political culture, expectations and the issue of democratic consent – a new Prime Minister, who will have been chosen first by Tory MPs whittling the options down to two and then 150,000 Conservative party members picking the winner. When Gordon Brown acceded unopposed to be Prime Minister in 2007 there was clamour for him to renew his democratic mandate by calling a General election. Brown didn’t do so and this is widely to be considered to have been a mistake firstly because the financial crisis hadn’t hit so he was in the best position he was ever going to have been, and secondly because he looked like he was ducking out of asking the electorate to endorse his Premiership. The new Tory Prime Minister may be in the best position politically they will ever be in, and so it will be a good time to call that election.
Of course, at the moment they are not actually in a legal position to do so. The Fixed Term Parliament Act specifically legislates against a Prime Minister calling elections at their own discretion. Essentially the next General Election date is set already for May 2020.
But there are ways out. Firstly if two thirds of Parliament vote to have a General Election it can happen. Secondly, if there is a vote of no confidence in the Government, particularly following a Budget or Queen’s Speech. Thirdly, the Fixed Term Parliament Act can be repealed. The first way might happen, no PM is likely to want to be forced by the second way, and the third way depends on what Parliament actually thinks of the Act itself, and it might be something that is good for the country in terms of political stability.
We are in uncharted waters, and no-one likes uncertainty, but it could be said that a quick General Election could actually reduce uncertainty. Again, we shall see.