Snap Election – Threat or Opportunity

So, according to the press, Local Conservative Associations have been put on alert for a potential General Election on 28th February. This would presumably be intended to solve the Brexit crisis – though for the life of me I cannot see quite how.

I have no idea what the chances are of an election happening on that date, but it might be worthwhile for Liberal Democrats to think about how we might respond practically if it were to happen.

Let us assume a) that the Tory position in such an election would be to back the May/EU Deal, and b) the Labour position would be a continuation of something like their current fudge (“we would negotiate a better deal to leave the EU”), and c) the Lib Dems are a pro-Remain party that is serious about wanting the UK to stay in the EU (rather than just talking about it).

In that case, just carrying on with business as usual will not cut it. Another General Election much like the last two will see Brexit diluted amid the cacophony of other issues, and many Remain supporters unsure who to vote for – one of the pro-People’s Vote, pro-Remain parties (who probably won’t win anyway)? Labour on the off-chance that they might come around to another referendum? Tory to keep Corbyn out? Who knows what the result would be – but it is very likely to be a House of Commons dominated by the Tory and Labour parties, with Remain voices sidelined.

Is there an alternative?

If our objective is to ensure that Brexit/Remain has the highest possible profile in the election, and to get the maximum number of pro-Remain MPs elected, we should aim to build on the cross-party co-operation of the last few days and to work towards having a single pro-Remain candidate in each constituency. The joint letter from the leaders of the SNP, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and Greens was a great starting point. If those four parties could agree that they would back a single pro-Remain candidate in each constituency it would be a very positive statement about the importance of the Europe issue, it would be a huge incentive for each of them to sell the Remain message, and it would be to the electoral advantage of all of them.

There will be tremendous pressure on Tory and Labour candidates to sign up to their party’s manifesto. Indeed, shutting up the Tory party’s “leave at any cost” extremists would probably be one of the driving forces if a snap election is called. It would take great courage for a sitting MP who disagrees with their party’s position on Europe to decide to stand against their party in the election. But, for those who support EU membership, knowing that they would be the single pro-Remain candidate in their constituency would increase their chances of holding their seat.

So, there might be an election. If there is one we have the chance to ensure that it stays focussed on one of our absolute key issues – Europe. That is likely to increase our number of votes, number of MPs and help restore our relevance. And it is probably the best chance of keeping the UK in the EU.

* Maurice Leeke has been a Liberal and Liberal Democrat member since 1983, and was a Cambridgeshire county councillor for 24 years. He now lives in Downham Market, Norfolk.

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22 Comments

  • Scott Berry 21st Jan '19 - 1:46pm

    I wonder how May will play a general election; if she tries to force candidates to stand on a manifesto/platform of her deal many will refuse, she can’t credibly but forward a manifesto that isn’t expressly in favor of her deal, do most likely she will put her deal as the Conservative Manifesto and turn a blind eye to Rees-Mogg, Johnson et al actively campaigning to say they won’t support her deal as they surely will. That then doesn’t help her much even if she is returned with a majority if it isn’t a majority united behind a single manifesto.

  • Yeovil Yokel 21st Jan '19 - 2:40pm

    Maurice – there’s no love lost between the LD’s and the SNP in Scotland, and both parties are committed to Remain, so I can’t see them agreeing to their opponents fielding a single pro-Remain candidate in each constituency (unless one party stands an obviously much better chance of winning the seat than the other).

  • Andrew Toye 21st Jan '19 - 3:34pm

    Any election before 29 March means running the clock dangerously low and only suits No Deal as that is the default setting. Polling day on 28 February leaves a new parliament just 2 weeks to assemble and stop it or seek an extension.

  • John Marriott 21st Jan '19 - 3:45pm

    If there were to be a General Election, which I think is the LAST thing we need at the moment, it will largely be a Tory v Labour affair, with possibly a first outing for Farage’s new party. There won’t be much room for anyone else.

  • GWYN WILLIAMS 21st Jan '19 - 4:01pm

    At the last General Election we lost one seat to Plaid Cymru in Wales. In Scotland we failed to regain 1 seat from the SNP by 2 votes. It will take far more than an electoral pact to overcome the longstanding divisions.

  • Peter Watson 21st Jan '19 - 4:06pm

    Given the Lib Dems’ poor electoral performance in 2015 and 2017, the obvious and well-publicised shortcomings of this Government and the Opposition over Brexit, and the fact that Lib Dems have made opposition to Brexit their raison d’être for nearly three years, it would be hugely disappointing if the party saw a potential snap general election as anything but an opportunity.

  • Maurice Leeke 21st Jan '19 - 5:13pm

    I agree with most of the comments so far, and particularly with John Marriott when he says (a snap election) ” is the LAST thing we need at the moment, it will largely be a Tory v Labour affair”. That is my worry. Without a significant shift in the stance of one or both of those parties, the issue of Brexit/Remain would barely get a look in. Without a strong rallying point for the Remain message the Remain vote will be reduced and dissipated. In those circumstances I fear we will drift out of the EU, because of the absence of a clear proposition for voters to support.

    I do understand that we all jump to our default, party-based mode as soon as an election is mentioned. I am sure I do it myself. But the question I ask myself remains; would that necessarily be the appropriate and best approach for an election that should be addressing the question of Brexit or Remain.

  • @Maurice Leeke – I strongly agree with much that you say about the need, at this time of national crisis, for effective cross-party cooperation in order “to get the maximum number of pro-Remain MPs elected” … if, as I profoundly hope not, there were to be a snap General Election on 28 Feb or any other date before Brexit has been finally stopped or resolved.

    Judging from what Theresa May had to say earlier this afternoon (in her statement to the HOC and replies to questions from MPs), however, it would seem that she *presently* has no intention of calling for a General Election – if so, thank goodness for that at least! As others have also commented on this and previous LDV threads, this so-called “solution” would be the last thing that the country needs in the current circumstances.

  • Paul Barker 21st Jan '19 - 6:56pm

    There is no way that we can control the debate in a General Election, it would be the usual confused mess & we & Brexit would both be squeezed. The only effect of an Election would be to waste more time.
    When it comes to the small number of MPs from other Parties who have genuinely fought Brexit, there is a case for us not standing against them but we are talking about less than 20 in total.
    We can’t stop an Election on our own but lets hope it doesn’t happen.

  • Fred Mackintosh 21st Jan '19 - 9:05pm

    Maurice – why do you think that it make sense for the Scottish Liberal Democrats to stand down in constituencies to make way for the SNP? Our party is the only one in Scotland with the clear position of wanting to keep Scotland in both the UK and the EU. Federalism and Independence are very different. The SNP (and the Greens) rightly point out that breaking the UK off from our largest trading partner and neighbour will harm us all and yet don’t seem to understand that the same argument applies to keeping Scotland in the UK.

  • The key aims of any elections should be 1) Scrap Brexit. 2) Displace Labour as the official opposition. 3) Oppose vicious nationalism and social conservatism. 4) Oppose vicious socialism and far left populism.

    We must strongly make the case for globalisation, immigration, privatisation, free trade, open borders, identity politics, the EU and free market capitalism.

  • John Marriott 22nd Jan '19 - 9:20am

    @Stimpson
    And motherhood and apple pie?

  • Jonathan Davies 22nd Jan '19 - 9:27am

    A 28 Feb election is now almost impossible. There must be 25 working days between the dissolution of Parliament and Polling Day, and there needs to be a few days between the announcement and dissolution for the Election to be agreed by the House of Commons under the Fixed Term Parliament Act and for wash up legislation to be cleared.

  • In answer to Fred Mackintosh.
    If the object is to elect as many pro-People’s Vote, pro-Remain MPs as possible I think it makes sense for Lib Dems and SNP to not stand against one another.
    I do recognise that such a decision should be made in Scotland, and that it would be based on saying “Our parties do not agree with one another on many issues, but for this election the over-rising issue is Europe – on which we agree that we should have a further referendum with the option to Remain”.
    Both (all) parties would return to “business as usual” in other and future elections.
    I hope that helps.

  • John Probert 22nd Jan '19 - 10:28am

    In England The Liberal Democrats and Greens are the only parties in England which unequivocally support ‘Remain’.
    Leave voters (if Corbyn still supports Leave or fudges it) will be hopelessly divided between Conservative and Labour. Therefore with FPTP, if the LD’s play their cards right they’ll surely be pushing at a wide open door.
    Step up to the plate, Vince Cable!

  • Ashley Pragnell 22nd Jan '19 - 11:30am

    If there was an election on 28th of February according to electoral calculus on a poll rating of 10 percent , which is what the polls have us on, we would have 19 seats. The polls before Christmas had the Lib Dems on 8.7 percent , which would be a net gain of 4 seats.
    Normally in a general election our poll vote has a variant of three percent either way.
    Thinking back to 1997 our poll rating at the start of the election was 10 percent, and by polling day it was 17.4 percent, and we returned 46 MPs.

    What the current polls tell us is that we would be in hung parliament territory again on the present figures. Tories 40, Labour 34, Lib Dems 10, UKIP , 4 Greens 4 and SNP 3.

    The polls would suggest a Tory minority government, well short and even. With the help of the DUP they would still not have a majority .

    Clearly any general election would mean , really conscentrating resources in most winnable seats, also encouraging activists to concentrate their efforts in target seats, Fife North East, Ceridigon, Richmond Park, St Ives, Sheffield Hallam, Leeds North West, Cheltenham and Devon North. Then look at other potential targets, where in the past we have been the incumbent .

    We have a clear message, a people’s vote, should be our main policy in the manifesto . We also need to make an humble apology to the student vote who we let down badly in 2010. This is where we need to use Jo Swinson and Layla Moran more dominantly in any campaign.

    Thus new pledges on health, and education, plus a rural manefesto.

  • Jenny Barnes, I believe you are absolutely right. ‘Neo-liberal Economics’ is NOT Liberal in my book, though I believe it is in too many. Its older name is Laisser-faire, or devil-take-the hindmost; and more recently Thatcherism, the very policy that brought us the now discredited “Austerity” which has inflicted such misery on so many. After the wretched travails of the Brexit fit, whichever way it goes, what the kingdom will need is re-union and reconciliation; and that is where the LD manifesto should be unmistakeably concentrating and leading. And it needs to make more positive noise about the climate.

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