April 18, 2017 by Paul Goldsmith
When Theresa May stepped out today (April 18th) to a lectern in Downing Street to announce she would be seeking to call a General Election on the 8th June, she couldn’t be sure that election will actually be held. That is because of the Fixed Term Parliament Act, passed by the Coalition Government in 2011.
Under that Act, there are two ways in which an election can be held before the full five years are up: The first is by calling for a vote of no confidence, which if passed (only a majority is needed) and an alternative government cannot be created for 14 days. This is unlikely, not least because it would involve some Conservatives voting no confidence in their own government. The second method that can be used to call a general election within the five year period is to pass a motion for a general election that is agreed by two thirds of the House of Commons (or without division, where nobody shouts out ‘No’ when the speaker asks).
It is this second route that Theresa May will most likely take, and rumour is that it will happen on Wednesday. Just to be clear, what is needed isn’t two thirds of those who vote, but two thirds of the whole house, which means that 434 MPs need to vote for a general election. It’s worth looking at how this can happen:
Let us assume that all 330 Conservative MPs vote for the election to happen. This is likely to happen, as you would have to have been living under a rock to not know what an opportunity this election could be to increase the Conservatives’ majority. There then needs to be another 104 votes.
It is always hard to know what the SNP will do, but easy to suggest that they will all vote for the same thing. I would predict they will vote against, because they have little to gain from an election given they have all but three Westminster seats in Scotland. Given the second Scottish independence referendum is on the horizons, it is convenient for Nicola Sturgeon to point to Theresa May’s lack of a mandate as Prime Minister to oppose it. A general election will give May that mandate. Furthermore, given Scotland voted Remain and the result of this election is likely to be more Brexit supporting MPs in the House, that’s another reason for not wanting the election. Sturgeon has already gone on record to say that May was trying to impose a “hard Brexit” with the poll. So that is 54 votes gone.
The Liberal Democrats under Tim Farron are very aware that this is a chance to gain seats after their 2015 disaster. They will go into this election on a pro-Remain banner, possibly even including a second referendum in their manifesto. They will almost certainly add their nine votes to the Tories. Many of the smaller parties might also see a reason to vote for the election to happen, to try to challenge the direction the country is going under May.
This leaves Labour. In order for the General Election to be held on June 8th there will need to be up about one hundred votes from Labour. Jeremy Corbyn has already issued a statement indicating that he will be voting for the election to be held. That of course doesn’t mean his Parliamentary Party will do the same. Unless the polls (which have Labour over 20 percentage points behind) are completely out, this will be the end for many Labour MPs, who will be voting themselves unemployed by voting for the election. On the other hand, Labour won’t want to be seen to be running scared.
I may be wrong, but I can’t see how a motion calling for a General Election on June 8th won’t go through.