Many are pondering the simple question, when will the next general election take place? Due to the chaotic times at hand, many believe another early election is inevitable, and could well be next year. It’s easy to see why.
The Tories have the slimmest of majorities being propped up by the DUP, Theresa May’s leadership is as strong and stable as a wet tissue, and she has enemies within her party waiting to pounce and drive her out of Downing Street.
However, I can tell you now there will not be an election in 2018, the reasons of which are plentiful. The first of which is Brexit. This week we moved onto the second stage of negotiations with the EU, which essentially considers the future relationship after we leave. This is where things get tricky, and it will take up most of the remaining 15 months before we leave. Expect very little time to be wasted on domestic policy until then, and there is definitely no time to waste on another campaign and visit to the polls, no one in Westminster will want to risk it.
Another issue is no one in Westminster particularly is interested in even entertaining the thought of another election just yet. The Tories, first, do not want to risk the slim majority they currently hold, and their leader does not want to risk the house she lives in. The Tories also do not want to take a risk on their leader whom despite still being slightly more popular than Corbyn, would currently lose an election with Labour’s current slender poll lead.
The Tories will first want to find a successor to May, but not whilst she remains a useful tool. On 12 June, May told the 1922 committee “I’ll serve as long as you want me”, and that is quite literal. When the Tories decide it’s time to go, she will go. The party has no other leader ready to step in, and none of the candidates wants to take any of the flak from Brexit. Boris is pushing himself out of the picture, Damian Green might yet have to resign, Davis is beaten from Brexit, Rudd has a very dangerous majority, and Hammond is as out of touch as it comes.
It’s important to note that Conservative leaders are much easier to remove than those in Labour. Just 15% is required to trigger a no-confidence vote, and should the leader lose they have to resign. The Labour moderates will be in envy of that; if Labour had the same rules then Corbyn would have been forced to resign in 2016. When Brexit talks are finalised and the Tories eye up successors, May will resign, or else will be forced out by her backbenches.
It’s not just the government who aren’t keen on an election, but the opposition too. In most cases, any opposition against a government as weak as this would be chomping at the bit to get into Number 10, but opposition is arguably the safer place to be right now. Labour will not want to own Brexit but will look to lead from opposition and take over once the fallout comes through. This may be wise, because as George Eaton puts it, Labour has more positions than the Kama Sutra on Brexit.
If Labour were to get into government they would need to settle on a concrete position for Brexit, and currently, not even the shadow cabinet can align their ideas. Labour’s manifesto ruled out single market and customs union access, though they have since revoked that. Corbyn and Starmer have ruled out freedom of movement after Brexit, but Abbot has called for it to continue. These ambiguous positions may be currently satisfying both Leavers and Remainers, but in government, they would need to choose and alienate one of the crowds.
Jeremy Corbyn speaking at Parliament Square during a demo in support of the NHS, 4 March 2017 (Dreamstime / 1000words)
Currently, they are leaving all positions open, and although Labour has not backed a second referendum, it has notably not ruled one out. Where the public lead, Corbyn and Labour will likely follow, although many argue they have a duty to stand up for the single market and customs union. This decision to hold off and not interrupt the Tories mistakes may be working for now, but it also raises the question of Corbyn’s future. By 2022 Corbyn will be 72, and many will wonder whether he could physically cope with a full term in office.
You would find it hard to find a political party currently chomping at the bit for an election. The SNP have lost their huge majorities and could face wipeout within Westminster, the Liberal Democrats are still stagnant in the polls and would make little gains, and finally, UKIP has pretty much ceased to be relevant now Brexit is being delivered. The only party who would make substantial gains are Labour, but they would rather be patient and hold off.
There’s also the public, who by now are probably bored of finding themselves heading off the polls. We all remember Brenda from Bristol’s reaction earlier this year — “Not another one!”, and this would be amplified with another. The public wants the government to just get on with it, get on with Brexit, and get on with leading the country. When you’re inside the political bubble it may feel like there’s appetite for big change, but most of the public are sick of politics.
Maybe in 2019...🔷