General election as Johnson faces Commons blow
Could a general election heal Britain’s wounds? The prime minister made it clear last night that an early October ballot was on the way if MPs succeed in seizing control of the Commons today.
In the background, the rhythmic thunder of the crowd: “Stop the coup! Stop the coup!” In the foreground, a shoal of reporters thrumming in the current of history. In the middle, a prime minister at bay, pale and defiant, saying one thing but meaning the opposite.
(Offstage, a 15-week-old abandoned Jack Russell called Dilyn, delivered to his new home at No 10 Downing Street in a pink, portable kennel.)
Such was the scene outside Downing Street at 6pm last night. So are the turning points in British politics made.
There had been an emergency cabinet meeting an hour earlier. Election fever was rife on Twitter. But then came the word: the PM would not be calling for one.
And he didn’t. He came out and said he didn’t want one. But everyone understood the opposite. Boris Johnson was issuing a threat.
Here is what is likely to happen.
1. Today, Tory rebels will defy the party whips and with the help of the Speaker, John Bercow, vote with other Remainer MPs to take control of the parliamentary agenda.
2. Tomorrow, facing the prospect of being forced to postpone Brexit (yet again) to 31 January, the Government will put forward a motion calling for a general election at the earliest opportunity: Monday, 14 October.
3. If the Government can get the support of two-thirds of MPs (which looks certain since Jeremy Corbyn last night said Labour wants an election), Parliament will be suspended for the election campaign.
4. Whoever wins on the 14th will go to the final EU council meeting on 17 October with Britain’s final terms.
5. Barring a further postponement or cancellation of Brexit, there would be seven days of parliamentary debate before Britain automatically leaves the EU on 31 October.
According to The Times today, one former cabinet minister fears the Conservative Party could be destroyed. “The country is now divided along the lines of Leave or Remain, not Left or Right, and we could end up being smashed.”
But could a general election heal Britain’s wounds?
Perhaps it is just what we need, goes one argument. After three years of bickering, it would give the whole nation a clear choice: Conservatives championing a Halloween Brexit (with or without a deal) against the Lib Dems championing Remain, and Labour championing a second referendum with Remain as one of the options. Voters could decide. The die would be cast. The bitterness and division would soon be water under the bridge.
Pure fantasy, respond the cynics. In an election that is all about Brexit, the main parties would all be suicidally split: Tory v. Tory and Labour v. Labour. The shared values that form the deep roots and traditions of these parties would be thrown up in the air. An even worse political chaos would follow. To imagine Britain disintegrating over the next 100 years would no longer be just a bad dream.
- Will you remember this time as a turning point when you are older?
- Is politics especially important at the moment?
- Make a sketch for an infographic called “Key Numbers in Politics”. Choose six numbers and explain what they mean. For example, one might be: 434 — the number of MPs needed to vote for a general election in October. Now, find five others.
- Using the expert links, see if you can learn to give a factual account of how political events in Britain will play out over the autumn. Divide into pairs where one of you is an expert and the other is a TV interviewer. See if you can answer a few realistic questions and record them on video.
Some People Say...
“Boris Johnson will be the shortest-lived PM in history and a loser alongside Theresa May.”A former cabinet minister last night
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- A general election would be Britain’s fifth nationwide contest in four years. if you work out average support in the polls for all of the parties over the past month, then the Conservative Party is not sitting in majority territory. It is sitting on 32% with Labour on 24%; the Lib Dems on 18%; Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party on 13%; the Greens on 6%, and the SNP on 4%. With these numbers, Boris Johnson might just squeak into majority territory but it would be close — and volatile.
- What do we not know?
- Whether the Conservatives will make an electoral pact with the Brexit Party in order to secure victory. To do this, they would have to promise a no-deal Brexit, otherwise Nigel Farage has promised to oppose them in every seat. Given the deep distrust in Number 10 for Farage (and vice versa), a pact seems highly unlikely.
- Party whips
- Officials of a political party whose task is to ensure party discipline. This usually means ensuring that members of the party vote according to the party platform, rather than according to their own individual ideology or the will of their constituents. Whips are the party’s “enforcers”.
- Remainer MPs
- Members of Parliament who believe Britain should stay in the EU. There are around 20 Conservatives who are Remainers, but the majority are Labour or Liberal Democrats.
- EU council meeting
- The meetings of the European Council (still commonly referred to as EU summits) are chaired by its president and take place at least twice every six months, usually in the Europa building in Brussels.