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Boris and Corbyn don’t deserve an election win

29 October 2019

11:46 AM

29 October 2019

11:46 AM

The first thing to be said about a general election in December is that it is necessary. This is the case regardless of your particular Brexit preference (though should that preference be a wish for it all to go away, I am afraid not even an election can offer you any relief). The government lacks a majority and no other government can be formed in this House of Commons. So an election is required. This is not Belgium and, indeed, the United Kingdom is not capable of being Belgium.

The second thing to be said about a general election in December is that there are vanishingly few good outcomes available. This is not a Conservative party that inspires any great confidence. But nor, in spades, does the Labour party. The Liberal Democrats, for their part, have hitched themselves to a cockamamie policy of revoking Article 50 and just cancelling Brexit. As a signalling mechanism this may have some use; as a matter of plausible policy a Bobby Ewing Brexit – in which we take a shower and discover it’s all been a dream – is a non-starter. 

In Scotland, meanwhile, the election comes at the best possible moment for the SNP. Not only can they be expected to regain some of the 21 seats they lost in 2017 but the election comes – assuming it is confirmed by the Commons – at a time when Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership has faced unprecedented, if still low-level, questioning. Just as significantly, the election will be concluded before Alex Salmond’s trial begins next year. 

So despite the ghosts of 1979 and all that, it makes sense for the SNP to support an election now. Likewise the Lib Dems, for whom an election before Brexit is very much more agreeable than one after Brexit at which a new reality will assert itself. 

For Labour, too, there are reasons to support an election. In the first place, they’ve been demanding one for at least the last year. That’s what the opposition is supposed to do and it looks feeble, and perhaps worse than feeble, to keep discovering reasons for avoiding an election. This is so even if the opinion polls are unpromising and it is so even if you are, once again, still led by Jeremy Corbyn. When it gets to squeaky bum time, however, the parliamentary Labour party knows its own weakness; many Labour MPs fear they could be in trouble in December but they’ll follow orders nonetheless. 

As for the Conservatives, an election is the only hope the party has of getting Brexit done and of moving on from Brexit (or at least from this phase of Brexit). “Get Brexit Done” is not the worst slogan available; if nothing else it speaks to the sense of Brexit fatigue evident in much of the country. 

No election is risk-free, of course – ask Theresa May about that – and there are plenty of circumstances in which you could imagine the Tories’ polling lead melt away.

In the first place, the election is only happening because Boris Johnson has failed. He may have got a new (not very good) deal with the EU but he hasn’t been able to pass it. We are not leaving the EU at Halloween. “Give us a second chance” is not an ideal election pitch even if it is presented as “Give us the tools to finish the job”. 

Still, despite that, it is a risk that must be taken; a gamble that must be made. The Conservative party may not deserve a majority but it cannot continue limping along like this either. So alea iacta est and all that. 

But, still, what a choice. Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn? The country has not faced as dismal a set of options as this since Theresa May failed to defeat Jeremy Corbyn properly and Jeremy Corbyn failed to defeat Theresa May at all. If countries receive the politicians they deserve something has gone badly wrong here. 

So this is not an election that deserves to be won by anyone and yet the price of them all losing – a result which might in one sense be gratifying – is likely to be significant and not just in terms of Brexit either.

It would, apart from anything else, offer the prospect of a Christmas election being succeeded by an Easter election. Even those of us in this trade might baulk a little at that. 


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