This Parliament will last longer than some expect
The length of this Parliament is linked directly to May’s future as PM, and both may last longer than some have predicted.
As we focus on the election result and what it means for the Prime Minister’s personal fortunes, we have missed a very large point about this hung parliament. Jostling about Theresa May’s time left as Prime Minister — two months, or two years, or more(?!) — misses the point that a hung parliament itself is unstable; it doesn’t just impact the government by not having a majority and having to rely on smaller parties (in May’s case, largely the DUP), it impacts all MPs. In essence, it makes predicting when the Parliament will come to an end very hard indeed. Adding the mixed fortunes of the now limping PM in too makes it ever more difficult to predict.
Some have suggested an October election for this year, while others have made the case for a Spring election next year. This would presumably follow the accession of a new Conservative leader and Prime Minister; there’s no way Theresa May will face the public willingly again, and the Tory Party simply wouldn’t allow it if she wanted to. A new Prime Minister would undoubtedly provide a case for a new election – the need for personal mandates grows as time goes on and the UK’s political systems gets ever more Presidential and media-focussed. That is, of course, unless the new PM is current Brexit Secretary David Davis, who would want to complete the Brexit negotiations first, before going to the country.
That’s also assuming May goes in time for Autumn or Spring. The Prime Minister in recent weeks, with the exception of Sunday Newspaper briefs against her that have largely been dismissed, has had a pretty good time, all things considering. She now has the backing of the 1922 Committee to fire any Minister she chooses; and her authority appears to making a small comeback. Any move to leave now, or even lay out a timetable for her resignation, would damage that returning authority. That leaves this two year session of Parliament following the Queen’s Speech at least safe both for Theresa May and for the public in that there won’t be another election.
But all that, of course, rests on Brexit. If the UK crashes out with no deal, May could well be replaced before 2019, and when the country leaves, a new General Election called at that point. If a transitional deal is put in place that lasts until 2022 or even later, we could see both May and the Parliament lasting much longer than some anticipate at this point and running until it’s due finish in 2022. We also must not forget the niggle point of the Fixed Terms Parliament Act that the Conservatives said they would repeal and replace, but now will likely not do so. Any election must be approved by 434 Members of Parliament (two-thirds of the total 650).
That fact makes things tricky. Labour, with their 262 MPs, will likely support an election whenever it is called for. However, if one is needed when Theresa May is still Prime Minister, Tory MPs will be sceptical about putting her to the country again considering her spectacular failure on June 8th. There’s also the facts to consider of the DUP deal and the Scottish Nationalist’s current aversion to a new election. The DUP want as much lee-way as they can get from the Government to maximise their influence both over Brexit and over money and policy in Northern Ireland. Although they’re unlikely to be overly sectarian, why would the DUP support a new election when it can promise to pass whatever Bill May/ another PM needs, in exchange for a little more money.
With the DUP against, Labour for and the Tory Party split on a new election with May as Prime Minister and Leader, it could be that the vote relies on the Scottish Nationalists. SNP MPs were reduced in number by almost 40% in the last election, going from 56 seats to 35. One MP – Stephen Gethins (North East Fife) has a majority of just two votes. No SNP MP has a majority of over 7,000 votes, and an 8% uniform swing against the party would wipe them out in the House of Commons. The SNP will therefore likely want to wait and see the results of any reboot of Nicola Sturgeon’s Holyrood Government, and perhaps even the 2021 Holyrood elections, before they approve a new Westminster General Election.
Does that mean the SNP would join the DUP in support of the Tories in a no-confidence motion? Unlikely. But it does mean that they will seek to extend this Parliament until they can be certain that it is safer to go for an election, and so that their MPs can make names for themselves in the hope of clinging on against Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives. Their influence also means the length of this Parliament is simply up in the air. But if Theresa May isn’t removed before this year’s conference and she manages to remain Prime Minister, we could see this run to term, or very close to it.