One remark from the Christmas party season knocks insistently around my head. It came from Nigel Farage on a staircase in the Ritz. For those who didn’t enjoy 2016, a year of political revolution, he gleefully promised: ‘2017 will be a hell of a sight worse.’ My, my. What did he mean? Had he taken one Ferrero Rocher too many? Or does Farage, like an increasing number of MPs, expect a general election next year, including further dramatic upsets?
The biggest reason for pooh-poohing a 2017 election isn’t the Fixed-term Parliaments Act but Prime Minister’s character. Theresa May is extremely cautious and she doesn’t want to test the electorate just yet. But against that I pose a simple question: in what way, please, are things going to get better for the Tories by 2020? Projections of the public finances look ghastly, though of course they may be wrong. There’s not much money to spread around.
More important, as soon as the government starts to make clear its Brexit plans, May will face more serious opposition, internally as well as externally. Go soft, and face the Brexiteers’ wrath; go hard, and face Ken and the Remainers with a virtually united opposition. Does the government actually have a majority for whatever version of Brexit it comes up with? And if the Prime Minister ends up with a parliamentary car crash, how can she avoid an early election? She has a lot to chew over, alongside the turkey.
This is an extract from Andrew Marr’s Notebook, which appears in the Christmas issue of the Spectator