An election or not?

Right now it feels a little like an electoral phoney war. Rumours of a possible snap general election prompted the party, rightly, to do urgent selections of prospective parliamentary candidates over the summer. Will the election happen? Could a possible false alarm be helpful?

One answer is to wait and see: a general election in October would point to a different strategy from one early in 2017, and we don’t have resources to invest a lot in an election that doesn’t happen.

But the appointment of a slate of Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) and putting things in place for an election campaign is an opportunity to put forward strong party values and to engage with people who have joined recently in shock at the referendum result. If we get it right, what we do now helps to shape the national debate and strengthens our hand for whatever elections are on the horizon. Internally, this is also a chance to run meetings where PPCs (and others) speak, helping draw people together in a way that is more positive than just lamenting the referendum result.

Focuses, press releases and media interviews to introduce PPCs are a golden opportunity to highlight the ideals and vision behind our support for EU membership. They are a chance to hold the Tories to account for the destructiveness of the referendum, and for a brutal austerity which we were told was essential but was dumped suspiciously quickly — when the damage it had done had stoked support for Leave.

Brexit would do great harm, not least to many of those who voted for it. We can pick up LibDem approaches to the wealth inequality that has done such damage, push for devolution to address people’s frustration at government being too remote, and electoral reform so that people feel their votes count (the present Tory majority comes down to the votes of just 900 individuals across the country). This is laying out our stall, but it is also signposting a vision at a time vision seems horribly lacking, replaced by attacks on human rights and immigration.

Getting in gear now also means addressing local party web sites, Facebook and Twitter, so they are up and ready. It takes a while for these to build a following: a prod now is really useful, and can encourage people to get more involved in re-posting and re-tweeting. It should also be a spur to get more people using Connect, so they are not trying to learn that in the heat of an election.

If this all a false alarm, at the very least it connects with new members and will be a good foundation for the next local elections.

Since last May we have been struggling to be heard. The appointment of PPCs is a temporary opportunity to change that.

Labour’s disarray means that, while we have been struggling to be heard, the country has been without a functioning opposition. It’s been horrifying to see the media obsess about Jeremy Corbyn’s railway seat when Labour should have been loudly challenging Tory proposals to repeal the Human Rights Act.

The appointment of PPCs gives us a chance to claim some visibility: it seems well worth taking.

* Mark Argent was the Liberal Democrat candidate in Huntingdon Constituency in 2019 and blogs at

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This entry was posted in News.


  • Simon McGrath 28th Aug '16 - 9:29am

    Given that there isnt going to be an October election would be not have done better to allow members to actually choose who their PPCs are rather than appoint them ?

  • I agree with Simon. The way the party has handled the recent round of “selections” has been disappointing to watch.

  • @Simon Shaw. Sorry mate, Mrs May can’t just call and election at whim. Fixed term parliament act and all that. So an election has to be called according to the act, namely by 2/3 of MPs agreeing or a vote of no confidence followed by no vote of confidence within 14 days. That will take some organising, though it’s not impossible.
    As to the selection/appointment of candidates. I agree selection would have been better, but if a snap election is called and we hadn’t got candidates in place then we would look utterly incompetent. Anyway, a full selection process will be gone through after May 2017 if an election hasn’t been called.
    In the meantime, the PPCs in place should be making the most of publicity opportunities to get our views out there.

  • It is worrying how many people still think Mrs May “can call an election”. It was on the Sky News web site this morning. Mick Taylor sums it up, it is practically and logically almost impossible. Can you imagine Mrs May introducing a vote of no confidence in herself. Not once maybe twice. Also the 14 day cooling off period could result in another type of government being formed from other parties. Mts May would then probably have to resign as Tory leader having lost her party power.
    Next election 2020.

  • Christopher Haigh 28th Aug '16 - 1:07pm

    @SimonShaw, it’s unlikely that Theresa May will want to Brexit within the next 100 years.

  • The Tories could easily call an election by simply repealing the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. The public would not be remotely bothered, since there was no great clamour for the Act to be brought in in the first place. May could simply write off the FTPA as an act of folly by the coalition, pointing to the fact that it did not make provision for the easy calling of an election during times of constitutional upheaval. (And how could it have made such provision? It would scarcely have been worth having the Act at all if it had.)

  • Sue Sutherland 28th Aug '16 - 2:23pm

    I am very interested in the statement that the votes of 900 people determined the outcome of the last election. If the party can do some more analysis of this then it is a way of bringing peoples’ attention to the importance of their vote. I’m not sure whether the seats mentioned in the link are always marginal but there will be others with majorities of less than 2000 or 3000 where the same might apply in another election. I’m thinking of simple statements like “last time the Tories won because 900 people voted for them. Do you want yours to be the vote that stops them winning again? Then make sure you vote for …”
    Explanation can follow for those who want to read it and I’m sure someone else can come up with a much better simple message.
    People like Farage and Trump because of the simplicity of their arguments. Just because they have nothing to back them up with doesn’t mean that we can’t adopt their effective approach.

  • @Paul
    But a two thirds majority would require the agreement of opposition parties – which in the current climate, is very unlikely to be forthcoming. Labour alone have over a third of the seats, enough to kybosh an early election.

    Let’s not forget that May stated clearly during (what was thought at the time to be) the leadership campaign that the next election would definitely be in 2020.

    The trouble is, with no meaningful opposition, the Tories at the moment have an almost supernatural ability to get away with anything they like. We”ve just seen their party split down the middle, with their voters voting by a large majority against the position of the leadership, and a Prime Minister elected barely a year ago replaced by a woman elected solely by Tory MPS. Imagine the damage events of this kind would have done to Labour. The Tories have sailed through it unscathed. Repealing the FTPA would be trivial in comparison.

  • The Professor 28th Aug '16 - 5:32pm

    @Sue Sutherland
    I have not looked it up but I recall that if circa 2,000 voters had switched from Tory to the runner-up party in the 1992 GE then John Major would not have had an overall majority.

    The result in 1992, 2010 and 2015 came down to a handful of voters in a small number of seats. These voters have far more power than most of the electorate.

  • Peter Watson 28th Aug '16 - 6:17pm

    @Stuart “The Tories could easily call an election by simply repealing the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.”
    That is something I’ve wondered about. Is there anything to prevent a government from repealing the act or passing a new one with a simple majority and then calling an early general election?

  • As much as I would like to see the back of the Tories- I’ll be surprised if we have a General election. I think the “Right-to-Rule” half can’t believe their luck. They have four years to change thousands of rules in their own image. Not enough time to put all the complicated stuff through parliament. Did the “Brexiters” realise they have given the Tories so much power?
    We can’t get them out! Time for a revolution. 🙂

  • The other side of this is that the appointment of PPCs does give an opportunity to do some things to strengthen local parties even if there is no election — so we should take those opportunities rather than invest too much in speculation.

  • Malcolm Todd 30th Aug '16 - 8:45am

    Simon Shaw
    “To repeal the FTPA a new Bill would have to be proposed and passed in the Commons and Lords repealing the 2011 legislation. I just can’t see the Lords agreeing to that.”

    Well, not quite. The Parliament Acts apply to FTPA like any other, so the Commons could override a Lords veto. But that would take a year, of course, so repealing FTPA, in the absence of agreement from the Lords, isn’t a way to hold a snap election! It’s not impossible, though, that the government will start action to repeal in the near future, with a view to having the power to spring an election sometime in 2018 or 2019.

    However, I can think of a scenario in which the Lords agrees to repeal: if the Commons has passed a motion, but by less than the requisite 2/3, for an election, and there is a persuasive case that it would be in the public interest to have an early election, but the chief opposition vetoes an election for obviously partisan reasons – then enough of the Lords may well be persuaded that the FTPA (which has not been law long enough for constitutionalists to have much affection for it) is not after all worth the candle. I think it’s unlikely, though.

  • “the appointment of PPCs does give an opportunity to do some things to strengthen local parties”

    So where are we on the boundary changes and the reduction in MP’s? My understanding is that Parliament has yet to agree to the new constituencies and their boundaries, which naturally will impact local party organisations…

    Simon – “expect the Salisbury Convention to apply subsequently in the HoL.”
    Given the HoL’s, differing responsibly, in the maintenance of UK democracy, to the HoC and the government of the day, and has already shown it will put aside the Salisbury Convention, if it deems it is in the nation’s interest. That expectation would seem to be more like an act of blind faith than anything else; particularly given the number of LibDem lords, who I would presume are inclined to believe the nation’s interests would be best served by remaining a member of the EU. [Aside: I wonder whether the UK government actually have the ability to pull the rabbit out of the hat and effect Brexit whilst retaining ‘membership’ of the EU? ! ]

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