Here we go again…just as we have chosen the new Prime Minister (PM) in a very British fashion the media is getting its knickers in a twist about a new election to give the new Prime Minister ‘legitimacy’. If we leave aside the nonsense of the idea that an MP who has the command of a majority of her fellow MPs in the House of Commons doesn’t have ‘legitimacy’ and go to the mechanics of calling an early election.
In the past the timing of an election was the prerogative of the sitting PM. She could call it whenever she saw fit, usually to her own advantage. This all changed after 2011 when the Fixed Term Parliaments act was passed. Now the length of a parliament is set to five years and this can only be changed if one of the following conditions has been achieved as set out in Section 2 of the act:
(a)the House of Commons passes a motion in the form set out in subsection (2), and
(b)if the motion is passed on a division, the number of members who vote in favour of the motion is a number equal to or greater than two thirds of the number of seats in the House (including vacant seats).
“That there shall be an early parliamentary general election.”
An election can also be called if a motion of no confidence is passed in the current Government and 14 days later that a second motion saying the the house has confidence in the government fails to get a majority
Now it is not me who is saying this but also the former clerk of the House of Commons is also saying exactly that: Week In Westminster – go to 7:00mins into the programme.
So it is very clear as to when and only when an early election can be called. Yet this doesn’t stop every talking head on TV at the moment claiming that the new PM must call an election in the Autumn. So let us examine the nonsense behind this idea just a little more, this time in reverse order:
The new PM must order her own MPs to pass a vote of no confidence in her government not once, but twice in a fortnight. If she were to do that then you would have the life expectancy as the PM measured in days. It just isn’t going to happen.
So now lets us think about the other option – getting 429 of the 650 MPs to agree to an early general election. Any abstentions, empty seats due to the death or otherwise incapacity of the sitting MP will count as a vote against the early election, this will mean that the four Sinn Fein MPs will count against the vote for an early election as they represent a seat but have never taken it. Then we come to the Turkeys voting for Christmas question. Just how many Labour MPs would want to face their electors at the moment, especially as they are just about be committing suicide with the attempt to oust Jeremy Corbyn? The only winner in such a vote would be UKIP in all those current Labour seats that voted heavily for Leave. If you don’t believe that to be the case just look at the number of Scottish Labour MPs there are, none, when just 18 months ago Scotland was seen as Labour’s heartland. So are these MPs really going to vote for an early election when they are more than likely going to lose their job? I doubt it.
There is one final way to get around the Fixed Term Parliament act – repeal it. However, I suspect that the Government of the day might have one or two more pressing issues to deal with before they get around to this.
So next time you hear some journalist getting all excited about an early election remember – they don’t know what they are talking about – what a surprise.