Lord Paul Tyler writes…An early general election

All the runners in the Conservative Leadership steeplechase may be denying that they would seek a General Election before 2020, but I suggest that you should examine their track record in terms of broken promises.   If the Labour Party is still suicidal, and if the dishonest Brexit commitments are beginning to unravel with devastating effect on people’s expectations, what Prime Minister could resist the temptation to go to the country?

In any case, there will be a strong reaction to the imposition of a new PM and Government on the whim of a 130,000 electorate.  Where is our much vaunted “Sovereign Parliament”, and the demand that our democracy must “take back control”, in that process?  When Cameron was elected there were 253,689 eligible members of the Tory Party, down from 328,000 when they selected Iain Duncan Smith.

In such circumstances, the new Leader could justifiably claim a moral duty to seek a new mandate from the whole country.

I have challenged Ministers to confirm that an early General Election – this year or next – would be contested in the current constituencies, with no boundary changes or reduction in the number of MPs.  Not for the first time, they seem clueless – you can see our exchanges here

If November 2016 or May 2017 does prove to be the date, there is an unexpected and unrepeatable opportunity for Liberal Democrats.  With a distinct, united position on the EU – in sharp contrast to the Conservative and Labour Parties – and the addition of thousands of new members, many of them fired up with youthful anger and enthusiasm, contesting in many parts of the country the very constituencies our excellent team of 2010-15 MPs served so well, we could surprise ourselves.

Meanwhile, the integrity of the Electoral Register – on which my colleague Chris Rennard and I have worked for so long – remains a critical element in the health of our democratic system.  As you will also know from our various efforts in recent months the Conservative Government will stop at nothing to skew the odds in their favour, if they can get away with it …….. whoever is their Leader.

* Lord Tyler is the Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson for Political and Constitutional Reform.

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23 Comments

  • Sandy Leslie 1st Jul '16 - 9:06am

    With regard to an early general election.
    Could any one explain why they thank that the next Tory leader would arrange for a vote of no confidence and why whoever forms the government after that would do the same ?
    I also suspect that very few MP’s who would have to vote the government down (twice) are wanting to face a general election at this juncture.

  • Chris Bertram 1st Jul '16 - 9:15am

    @Sandy Leslie – Our MPs would be keen enough, and the SNP probably wouldn’t resist. Labour MPs might prefer to go now before the inevitable bloodletting after a leadership contest results in mass revenge deselections by the Corbynista membership. The attitude of Tory MPs loks to be the deciding factor. That I can’t easily read.

  • Tony Dawson 1st Jul '16 - 9:33am

    Te words ‘Turkeys’ and ‘Christmas’ appear to be absent from this debate.

    I would think that Teresa May should only go to the country in April after she has given us all a very clear and honest answer as to what the government believes Article 50 letter will actually trigger – and should not send that letter till a new Parliament has voted on it, each member of which has told their electorate which way they intend to vote on the Article 50 letter as well as other vital matters. Believe it or not, the economy is still in a mess, the middle east is on fire, China is playing around in the west Pacific much like Japan did in the 1930s and global warming is proceeding apace. 🙁

  • I still think the mechanics of getting an early election are fraught with difficulty. If the government conspires to lose a vote of confidence when it is just 1 year in, people will see it for the ploy it is. In order for it to do that it would have to either abstain en bloc or vote for a motion of no confidence. I can’t see Labour abstaining or voting against a motion of no confidence. Could the government and the Labour party vote together for an early election? Well perhaps but that would indicate hutzpah neither of them really have in being confident of winning.
    What of the Lib Dems? We could hardly do worse in a GE whenever it comes, but we will be very short of cash and we do not have, as yet, a message that will resonate with people. If we come forward with a radical manifesto that will catch the imagination it will have to include total reform of our broken system – STV in all elections, devolution to the regions of England, elected second chamber, single principal local government tier in England, a credible economic plan to tackle the serious inequalities in our society and an understandable strategy for relations with the EU. We should not offer further referendums on constitutional reform but a platform that we will implement in government.
    Unless we offer a real alternative, we will be sidelined.

  • Another Mark 1st Jul '16 - 9:59am

    The link given in the piece doesn’t work.

  • Will the Conservative party have sufficient control over its members in parliament? Invoking article 50 and compromise in negotiations are likely to stir rebellion in one wing or other or even both.

    If the Tories lose a vote in parliament, I think a general election is very likely to follow. A no confidence vote is likely to ensue, though of course it would be messy. The Tories would really like to shore up their position with a boundary review, but they would be confident of being able to deploy their overwhelming advantage in party funds effectively.

  • Pete Roberts 1st Jul '16 - 10:46am

    Any election held before the end of May next year would have to be fought on the current boundaries as there is insufficient time within the timescales laid out by the Welsh Boundary commission for them to have completed their review and placed it before parliament before then. If we go to autumn 2017 the picture is less clear but there may be a hint in that they are marketing their review as being 2018 so I assume that is when they expect the act to become law.

  • Sandy Leslie 1st Jul '16 - 1:59pm

    So far I have not seen an explanation as to why any of the remaining Tory hopefuls would engineer 2 votes of no confidence and then go to a problematic general election with the theme~~I have been rejected twice by parliament .Please support me ~~ maybe if BJ were still in the race I could see this happening

  • Bill le Breton 1st Jul '16 - 4:51pm

    Paul, surely the potential for UKIP to make considerable gains in an early election are sufficient to discourage any new PM from going to the electorate until a deal is done. (Regardless of the need to get Labour also to vote for an early election.)

    Also a planned early election would require a Tory leader to be harder on negotiations – (to shoot UKIP foxes), which would make it much more difficult to conclude negotiations either early or (in Tory terms) satisfactorily.

    Surely the odds are still on an EEA option with the negotiations also delivering the specific definition of any ‘+’ in an EEA+ solution.

    Whatever Lib Dems do now must be decided on with an eye to a later election in which: a) the Tories have delivered and bedded in a Post-EU relationship with Europe and one or two other significant markets, b) Labour have a more electorally attractive leader, and c) a significant number of UKIP 2015 voters have returned to the Tory fold.

  • David Allen 1st Jul '16 - 5:11pm

    There are umpteen tactical reasons why politicians might seek to avoid an early election, and umpteen tactical reasons why they might push for one. The situation is appallingly fluid. If the Brexiteers stay on their tightrope, they will probably want to avoid an election. If they fall off – due to recession, due to Scotland, due to new conflcit in Ireland, due to more political buffoonery – then they may end up screaming for an election.

    Tactical considerations aren’t what matter. Principles do.

    What mandate have the Tories got for Plan B, now that Plan A has collapsed in tatters? What mandate has a Plan B leader got? What makes the Tories think they have a mandate to choose between the single market and the scrappage of free movement? None whatsoever.

    Continued Tory rule without an election is simply illegitimate, and that is what we should say to the nation. If we make that case, then the tactical players in other parties will have to come round to conceding it.

  • Given the constraints of the fixed term Parliament act, and the nature of the Conservative party’s predicament, I see no reason why they would wish to risk calling a general election earlier than 2020, with the uncertainty such an election would bring. Whilst we can laugh when some talk about PM Farage, I have no doubts that given what we saw in 2015 and last week that an early election would generate some rather unexpected results, including the Conservative PM losing their seat. In the interests of stability and continuity of policy, I see every reason to avoid an early election.

  • Chris Rennard 1st Jul '16 - 6:48pm

    The debate (shown in Paul Tyler’s link in his comment above) shows how clueless some of the Ministers in the Lords are these days! They used to say that a week is a long time in politics, and now we can see that a day is a long time in politics, so we don’t know if the circumstances for a new Tory Leader will be propitious for an early general election or not. But their leadership election will be based on trying to unite their party on the least worst Brexit option as they see it – probably along the lines that Bill Le Breton suggests.
    But then I think that a new Tory Leader might take advantage of that very important word ‘new’. John Major would have won a landslide victory in a general election in early 1991, as the ‘new’ Prime-Minister. Instead he allowed us to win the Ribble Valley by-election and when he eventually had a General Election his majority of 21 was insufficient to last the Parliament. Gordon Brown would have won a General Election in 2007 as the ‘new’ Prime-Minister (and we would have retained over 50 seats) and David Cameron would have become an ex Party Leader in that year.
    The Fixed Term Parliament Act principle could be evaded by a new Prime Minister (as Nick Clegg has been suggesting should be the case in order to provide a public mandate). Whilst Labour may have a popular new leader by the autumn, they may also be just as divided and left with an unelectable leader as they were in 1983. So a new Tory leader might seek a vote on holding a general election when Parliament returns on October 11th. Could Labour say, no thanks – please carry on governing for another four years? Theresa May (or whoever) could still resign by carrying a technical motion of no confidence and if nobody else has a majority in the Commons within a fortnight, then there could be a general election in November.

  • then there could be a general election in November.
    Expect UKIP to fully utilise the opportunity to mobilise it’s new found pool of voters; you may think it is an inconsequential general election, for UKIP it will be a second referendum…

  • When the fixed term Parliament act was brought in, I expressed the opinion here that it was a bit of a sham and the government would always be able to engineer an early election if it wanted to. I was told by just about everybody that I was talking nonsense. But now it appears that most people seem to accept that an early election is a possibility if the government wants one.

    Theresa May has stated unequivocally that if she wins (and she’s looking pretty nailed on at the moment) the next election will be in 2020 as planned.

  • Andrew McCaig 2nd Jul '16 - 6:37pm

    I must say that reading the rules on an early general election it seems most improbable. Would a prime mister really go into a general election on the back of a no confidence vote by his or her own MP’s??? It might seem like a neat trick to some SPADS but I dont think the electorate would understand it. Otherwise it relies on BOTH main parties wanting a general election to get the 2/3 majority.. Turkeys do not vote for Christmas, as someone said above.

    The only easy way would be repeal of the fixed term parliaments act, which the Tories could push through with their majority, but that would take time..

    On the subject of UKIP, they stand to damage Labour far more than the Tories, so if a Tory Prime Minister was able to call a General Election in the old way without opposition consent, they might well be tempted. Only 9 of the top 30 UKIP target seats are Tory (one is Southport, the other 20 Labour…), and the poll breaks show that UKIP voters are predominantly from the C2DE social classes. If more votes went to UKIP compared with 2015, it would almost certainly help the Tories in the Lab-Con marginals

  • Dissolving parliament requires 434 votes, which is either:
    a) All the Tories and 104 Labour MPs
    b) All of Labour and 205 Conservative MPs
    c) Some mix of the above and/or other parties (e.g. 175 Conservative, 174 Labour, and 85 other)
    d) The Tories bring down their own government, refuse to form a new government, and refuse allow any other party to form a new government (a protracted process, taking several weeks, likely to cause considerable political upheaval and allowing many opportunities for the Tories to lose their nerve).

    None of these scenarios is currently plausible.

  • Alan Depauw 2nd Jul '16 - 8:28pm

    Presumably Theresa May is refusing an early General Election as a pitch to gain Tory Brexiter support. She knows that Brexiters consider early elections as a last-ditch attempt by Remainers to refuse the Referendum vote.

    The only way for an early General Election to be called seems to be for courageous Tory MPs to vote against the government in a vote of no-confidence. Do such MPs exist? Perhaps some who plan to retire? Who are ready to put country before Party?
    Perhaps there have been private exchanges indicating this to be not entirely impossible. We shouldn’t expect those in the know to divulge them.

    But it certainly would do no harm to encourage a public demand that a new PM and Chancellor must seek a fresh mandate to pursue policies entirely different to those the electorate voted for last year.

  • Andrew McCaig 2nd Jul '16 - 9:09pm

    I notice Kenneth Clarke put down a marker for EEA as a price for his support in the Leadership contest…

    Theresa May made it very clear she was not going to overturn the vote – she has to, given the Eurosceptic and surprisingly small Tory membership – 150,000 reactionary people are going to decide the fate of this country and the future relationship with the EU! How is that democratic???

    Mind you, I was surprisingly impressed by Theresa May’s statement and suspect she will prove an effective prime minister

  • Mick Taylor 2nd Jul '16 - 9:43pm

    David – 1. You don’t have to have 2/3 of MPs voting for a dissolution. There is another way which is to engineer a vote of no confidence. If Labour is in total disarray will the new Tory Prime Minister be able to resist the opportunity to destroy them?
    A lost vote of confidence is easy to arrange. After all Labour (and the Lib Dems) could hardly vote against it. It only needs a handful of Tory MPs to vote for no confidence twice in 14 days and we get a general election.
    Having said all that I don’t believe it’s going to happen, but we have to prepare as if it will. We are the only party for whom a GE would be a very good thing and if we can position ourselves as the pro EU party AND the save the UK party with real constitutional reform then I think we could do very well.

  • Simon Banks 6th Jul '16 - 10:22am

    Normally, if a government wanted an early election, the main opposition party would not oppose it. After all, it would give them a chance of power sooner than they expected – and if they refused, all the time from then and through the eventual general election, they would be taunted as cowards and hot air merchants: “If you believe what we’re doing is wrong and unpopular, why didn’t you take the chance to test it with the electorate?”.

    Present circumstances are not normal and Labour is very vulnerable. But even so, awareness of that would make them think twice before in effect confirming they thought they could not win. If Labour got a new leader more credible than Corbyn, the new face effect could work to their benefit as much as the Tories’ – depending on what new face the Tories chose – but that might make the Tories think twice.

    Would the SNP support an early election? Interesting.

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