By Martha Muir
Listen carefully enough, and depending on how close you are to an office of the Labour Party, you might just hear the sounds of printers whirring. The party’s MPs are allegedly preparing leaflets and stickers in anticipation of Theresa May calling an early election. This follows calls from her own party to take advantage of her opposition’s weak position, and the obvious tactical benefit there might be in attempting to expand her slim seventeen seat majority into one which could leave her better placed to handle contentious issues such as Brexit.
One such advocate for an early election is former party leader William Hague, who said that “the most complex challenges of modern times: Brexit negotiations, the Trump administration, the threat from Scottish nationalists” require Mrs May to be in a stronger position. The Conservatives lack a majority in the House of Lords, and as such have been subject to demands for ministers involved with Brexit to report regularly directly to a committee of Lords. An increased majority would not remove this particular obstacle, but it would stave off attempts by Tory remainers, Labour and the Lib Dems to vote against the government in the Commons. Since YouGov place the Tories on 44% compared with Labour’s lacklustre 27%, it seems that May can only stand to make her and her party’s life easier.
Surprising then, that another man reportedly preparing for an early election is none other than Jeremy Corbyn himself. In December he said that his party would be “ready for it” (a snap election) due to his popularity with members and relative poll performance improvements. However the performance of the party in Copeland means his assessment may be somewhat detached from reality: the reality of his MPs of losing what should be easily defendable seats.
For May to call an election two-thirds of the Commons would have to approve repeal of the Fixed Term Parliaments act. This makes the actual likelihood of an early election doubtful. But in any event, there is also a strong strategic argument for patience. During her leadership campaign she promised there would be no early election, casting herself as a leader to usher in an era of much needed stability. If this promise was broken May would risk gaining seats but losing the electorate’s trust in the long term. Additionally a snap election would lose May valuable negotiating time with the EU. If those negotiations result in a deal which reflects well on May, she could gain even more support in the long run than she is enjoying now.
So an early election is likely to be nothing more than a threat hanging over Labour HQ. But in the event of May’s hands being tied any further, those leaflets and stickers might come in handy.
Image: US Embassy London via Flickr.