The prime minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland asked parliament to set an election date of June 8, delighting her own party and political geeks around the world (Telegraph).

Normally, the election would begin as soon as the PM wanted one. In this case, however, Parliament could actually turn her down under the fixed term parliaments act of 2011. Indeed, she needs two thirds of the MPs to agree to an election. At least, that’s the theory. In practice, Theresa May will get the election she wants. Here’s why.

First, of course, her own party wants an election. Like everyone else in Britain, the Conservatives can read the polls. They see there well ahead of the opposition. They’re dreaming of hundred plus seat majorities and such. Not that they’ll actually get it, they’re weaker in their southern heartlands then they realize. Still, the prospect of one last term in office before the Boundaries Commission wreaks havoc on them will be more than enough for Tory MPs.

Secondly, despite its horrible position in the polls, Labour wants an election, too. Of course, different party factions have different reasons for that. Supporters of Jeremy Corbyn think he can at last show what terrific leader he is for the party. Anti-Corbyn Labourites, by contrast, are hoping an election drubbing will finally lead him to stand down (or be challenged and replaced as leader). Indeed, Corbyn himself has said he welcomes an election, and if he can play the expectations game right, he might just get through it.

Finally, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP also want an election. For the LibDems, it’s obvious. As the most Europhilic party in Britain – and with the PM effectively establishing herself as Madam Brexit in her election announcement this morning – Tim Farron’s party is certain it can pull seats from both major parties. For what it’s worth, I think they’re right, meaning Labour could lose some seats in London and other urban areas while the Conservatives could be in trouble in the South West and in the South East. As for the SNP, another election provides the perfect distraction from their own governing woes in Scotland, while giving them a proxy on support for their independence-to-return-to-the-EU line. I think they’re in for some rude surprises in the Highlands and in the Border areas, but they’re not listening to me (and given my record of prognostication, they’d be wise in that).

In fact, I would say the only Westminster parties that really don’t want another vote are the Northern Ireland parties. All of them are either going through crises or suffering general weakness (and in the case of the Ulster Unionist Party, both). Sinn Fein will be thrilled to have a vote after their March surge in the NI Assembly, but their MPs don’t take their seats.

All in all, expect an overwhelming vote to dissolve Parliament, far higher than the 2/3 majority needed. Then the real fun begins.

  • The Jaded JD

    Yes, there are exceptions but the overall sense is that the general election is overdue and that Theresa May has been in denial for months. Corbyn’s weakness in the polls has made most of the Conservative parliamentary party scratch its collective head at her caution, plus the legacy of Gordon Brown’s failure to call one (after he took the Labour leadership from Tony Blair) to garner his own personal mandate was a major Conservative campaign point in 2010. (Not to mention that if he’d called one before the full effect of the global financial crisis made itself known, he’d likely have won and had a 5-year term of his own to ride it out. How different the past 7 years would have looked then.)

    What happens in Scotland will be interesting, but the reality is that the SNP has been the real opposition party since the Brexit referendum. Angus Robertson has been using his 3 questions at each Prime Minister’s Questions debate to much better effect than Corbyn has used his 6. He knows where to stick in the knife. Nicola Sturgeon has some “domestic” policy issues at home but I think in an election for the Westminster parliament rather than Holyrood, she at least holds what she has.

    There will be trouble spots for the Conservatives, particularly in the Southwest where the LibDems look stronger and millennials throughout the country may finally forgive them for their broken university tuition fees promise. An election now, rather than before the Boundary Commission constituency reductions, means the party probably will not increase its *percentage* of seats in the Commons as much, but since it means that more incumbents will be going back, it makes more of them happier.

    The biggest concern, though, is what happens to the balance of power between the executive and legislative “branches” if May returns with a majority of, say 50+, let alone 100. The current formulation of the Great Repeal Bill will give government ministers power to revise statutory law to disentangle EU law from domestic UK law as part of the Brexit implementation, either by statutory instrument (a very rough analogy to US federal agency regulation) with very little oversight in the Commons or Lords, or by proclamation or order-in-council (something closer to a presidential executive order, but again not quite) with no oversight at all. Coupled with a probable change in Speaker (who, in the Commons is supposed to be a party-neutral, objective umpire to help MPs hold ministers to account) hand-picked by May with her increased majority after the election, she could further distance her government from accountability to anyone for five years.

    That could be quite something. Those unfamiliar with UK politics may not appreciate that the balance between backbenchers of all parties vis-a-vis the frontbenches, especially the government frontbench, is institutionally more important, in a separation-of-powers sense, than the balance between the political parties. There is obviously no formal, written, constitutional division between the executive and legislative in the UK, but the Great Repeal Bill coupled with a government-friendly Speaker in the Commons will severely weaken the fragile membrane that separates them now.

    • D.j. McGuire

      I think the Great Repeal Bill may be more a problem in form than in substance, so long as the initial move is just to graft all EU regs into UK law (culling them can – and should – come later in legislation that can be debated in the House). As for the Speaker, as I understand it Bercow is running again, and I doubt even a Tory caucus with a 60-70 seat majority (which is where I think they’ll end up) has the stomach for a change in the Chair.

  • The Jaded JD

    I didn’t notice your reply on this post when you made it. You’ve got the second half of Great Repeal Bill wrong: the whole point is to allow the government to excise EU law from UK law without enacting primary legislation. There is still some shape-shifting on whether the process will be by statutory instrument or by order-in-council or what form it will take, but it will not be a bicameral, majority-vote process. That is the whole point, and why it is colloquially called the Great Repeal Bill (i.e., providing for the repeal of EU law without other primary legislation) rather than the Great Incorporation Bill (i.e., incorporating all EU law until it is repealed by other primary legislation).
    As far as John Bercow goes, Conservatives in the coalition government tried to remove him on the last day of the last Parliament, and Conservative backbenchers just tried to remove him through an early day motion in February, so the stomach to remove him certainly is there. I don’t think that an increased Conservative majority will make it *less* palatable to them to try to replace him, or that an increased majority will make it harder for them to do so if they do try.