It is fair to say that today’s call by Theresa May for a British General Election has caused some confusion, not least because most voters were blissfully unaware that she could unilaterally cut short the parliamentary term. Add into the mix that London is about to embark on its biggest ever constitutional negotiation over Brexit, and once again confusion reigns supreme in the UK.
Aren’t There Fixed Term Parliaments?
Up until David Cameron’s Premiership, the timing of General Elections were entirely up to the Prime Minister, subject to a limit of five years. But when the coalition came in the rules were amended to ensure a more stable government. The legislation was called the Fixed Term Parliament Act.
Tomorrow, Theresa May will go to Parliament to ask them to (effectively) No Confidence her own government and call an election for June 8. This requires a two-thirds majority of MPs, and so far the other political parties look like they might be up for voting with the Conservatives to make it happen.
Should this process fail, May has another, bizarre option. She would have to resign as Prime Minister—but not as the leader of the Conservative Party. This would force HM The Queen into asking the Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, if he could form a government commanding the support of the majority of MPs.
Given that Conservatives are the largest party, there is no way Corbyn could form a government at this stage—and when no government can be formed an election is held anyway. But because May only resigned as Prime Minister, and not Conservative Leader, she would go back to being PM if the party wins.
So those who don’t believe an election can happen because of the Fixed Term Parliament Act are wrong and, in any case, the British constitution is easy to amend—so this law could be repealed with a simple majority of both the Commons and the Lords.
Didn’t They Cut The Number Of Seats?
Yes, David Cameron reduced the number of parliamentary seats from 650 to 600. The “official” reason was to cut the cost of democracy and to equalize the size of seats. But the Labour Party claims it was a deliberate attempt to undermine them by reducing the number of seats given to Scotland, Wales and northern England (where Labour traditionally does well).
Such a dispute is academic, because nothing will happen this time anyway. Passing the law is not enough for it to come into force until Parliament can agree on the boundaries of the new seats.
So far one serious attempt at redrawing the constituency boundaries has failed, and the next is scheduled for 2018. For now, it’s the old seats—with all their unfairness—that stay. This means some MPs will represent less than 30,000 people and others will be close to 100k.
What Is The Likely Outcome?
Despite claiming the election was purely do with strengthening her hand over Brexit, the Prime Minister cannot have missed that she is 21 point ahead in the polls. The Conservatives are also ahead in of Labour in Scotland, and could therefore make some gains from the Scottish National Party.
The reason for all this is that, in Corbyn, the Labour party elected a virtual communist as their leader. The Party is imploding, with MPs stepping down to take “normal” jobs. Corbyn has largely ignored the important issues of the day to instead “bang on about” hobby-horse topics like Israel and Irish Republicanism.
All this means the bookies are saying there is an 87 percent chance of Theresa May winning.
So What Is the Point?
Theresa May isn’t stupid, and she certainly wouldn’t be going to the country for the sake of it. Her real problem is that Brexit is divisive and large numbers of MPs from all sides want to derail her negotiations. There may even be a majority to force her to reveal her negotiating position to the public, and therefore inevitably to the EU negotiators.
If she can use this 21-point lead to increase the number of seats, then she bags democratic legitimacy while giving herself a majority she can work with. It also means an election was won by her, on her policies—and that has to make life easier.
Remember, May came in because Cameron resigned as Prime Minister. She has not been elected by the public.
We live in interesting times.
Andre Walker is a Lobby Correspondent covering the work of the British Parliament and Prime Minister. Before studying journalism at the University of London he worked as a political staffer for 15 years. You can follow him on Twitter @andrejpwalker