A pre-Halloween election is highly likely, and could be just what is needed to settle the matter one way or the other.
After Tuesday’s high drama and parliamentary theatrics, it is worth taking a step back to consider the two fundamental facts that have changed.
First: MPs with a majority of 327 to 299 have voted to block a no-Deal Brexit by delaying it until the 31st of January if the Prime Minister does not have a deal by October 17th, after a key EU Summit. The Bill has now passed on to the House of Lords, where Government Peers are attempting to filibuster and delay its passage, preventing it from being put into law until Parliament is prorogued next week.
Second: In response to MPs voting for a delay, Boris Johnson demanded a general election on the basis that Parliament was attempting to stop Brexit. However, Labour decided to abstain and with only 298 in favour, it meant the Government failed to reach the two-thirds majority that was needed.
Why did Labour block an election?
Despite demanding an election for the last three years, Corbyn spoke against such a vote, arguing that it was a way for the Government to push through a no-Deal Brexit. He feared that through a Royal prerogative, the date of the election would be changed mid-way through the campaign to after October 31st, thereby making Britain leave the EU by default with a no-deal. Opposition MPs united to agree that until the legislation against a no-deal had made its way through the Lords and gained Royal Assent, they would not vote for an election. It is worth noting, though, that should Boris Johnson return with a majority after the election, he would have the power to repeal any legislation and then push ahead with a no-deal Brexit.
Where does this leave Boris Johnson … ?
Yesterday he faced the backlash for his decision to remove the Whip after Tuesday’s rebel vote, with Ken Clarke and Sir Nicolas Soames making powerful criticisms. After three defeats from three votes, and a tough PMQs, the PM was left last night in a state of paralysis, facing the threat of No-Deal being taken off the table, whilst being blocked from triggering a general election. However, over the next few days the Government will attempt to find a way to do just that, without the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, or it may even sacrifice defeat in the Lords in order to win the vote for an election.
… And Jeremy Corbyn?
It is worth considering all of these parliamentary debates through the prism of an election, because after all, this is now inevitable. So ask yourself, how will voters perceive this week’s events when it comes to the campaign? For Corbyn, he is carving out Labour’s policy towards greater parliamentary say (anti-prorogation), and against a no-deal Brexit.
I wonder, also, whether the clips of Tory MPs accusing Corbyn of cowardice will be effective when an election campaign finally arrives? Will the electorate care once the campaign shifts onto other policies and issues?
The election campaign the will want to run is in plain sight. After the purging of Remain MPs that could have caused problems over such a message, in a very risky way they will appeal to core Leavers across the country by combing the issue of Brexit with the general concern over Corbyn’s leadership. However, the election will be decided by two core groups, so consider any future parliamentary drama by asking yourself: Is this a deliberate appeal by Johnson or Corbyn to one of these groups?
1) Remain Voters: reluctant of Corbyn’s ambivalence but not wanting Brexit to take place — what is more important for them?
2) Brexit Hardliners: do they vote Brexit Party or Conservative? The Government’s stance over deal or no deal will likely determine that.
… And Brexit?
There is no majority in the House of Commons for any of the alternatives, so an election is inevitable. And perhaps that is in keeping with the way British democracy is being transformed. David Cameron, held three different referendums when he was prime minister (on Voting Reform, Scotland, and Brexit) and consequently began to set the precedent for a direct democracy. This has shifted voters’ expectations away from the representative modal, to one where MPs are directly instructed by the people — instead of letting them be the sober judges of what is best for the electorate. For the last three years, MPs have failed to settle the debate as regards the type of democracy that is to be standardised, and with Brexit having to be resolved by an election, the trend towards direct democracy in the UK will only deepen.
Vote Leave campaigned to ‘Take Back Control’. The referendum itself and the proceeding chaos, promises to increase the power of the electorate as Parliament and the Prime Minister attempt to manoeuvre through this brave new political world.