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Henry G Manson: Could Dave just be thinking of an early election?

June 28th, 2012

Why the 5 year law is not the blockage it appears?

This week’s Michael Gove O-level story and David Cameron’s somewhat controversial speech as Conservative leader on welfare stuck out for me as being a bit peculiar. They were spun as what we might see from a future majority Conservative government. But who will remember this in May 2015? There are two plausible political explanations. The most likely is the Prime Minister needed to butter up the troops especially before backing Nick Clegg’s Lords reform plans. However I wouldn’t entirely rule out the alternative – that we might not in fact be 3 years away from a general election.

Fixed Term Parliament legislation passed by the Coalition allows for an election to be called before May 2015 in two events. The first is if there is a majority vote of no confidence passed against the Government and without a subsequent confidence vote passed within a fortnight. This won’t happen.

The second scenario is if there is if a motion for a general election is passed with a two-thirds majority. Two thirds is currently 434 MPs meaning that it could be passed if most of the 559 Labour and the Conservative MPs agreed to an election in autumn 2012.

    Think about it. If David Cameron declared he wanted a general election how on Earth could Labour oppose such a motion? The clamour from Labour MPs would be immense.

    We’ve seen the cost of a Government bottling an election before, but not yet an Opposition. Ed Miliband would have to agree or be fatally wounded.

There are a variety of reasons why the Prime Minister might chance his arm right now and risk an election in the autumn or spring. Here are my three.

Future economic and political advantages removed - With the Coalition Government set to miss its deficit reduction strategy even before a Eurozone meltdown the economic spoils are less certain. The prospect of abolishing the structural deficit by May 2015 has near as damn it been ruled out. It is not difficult to envisage Lords reform collapsing under the weight of a large Conservative rebellion – which in turn can lead to Liberal Democrats blocking boundary changes before 2015. If this occured then a key electoral benefit of waiting for parliament to run its course disappears.

Convergence of leadership ratings – Ed Miliband’s personal poll ratings have improved somewhat in recent months just as has the Prime Minister’s have deteriorated.  The last I read it was about even-Stephen. David Cameron would fancy his chances in a televised leadership debate with Ed Miliband any time soon and would probably regain a lead. The country in 2012 may conclude that Ed is not sufficiently tried and tested. But in 2015 this may not be the case. The Labour leader is slowly but surely growing into the job.

Labour is poorly resourced and still light on policy  – more voluntary redundancies were announced earlier this month to help tackle the party’s longstanding debts. An election in the next six months would leave the party either comprehensively outspent by the Conservatives or reliant on very large donations from unions which would come with a public and private political price. Last month Ed Miliband wisely brought in Jon Cruddas to take over the policy review from Liam Byrne. The joke was Liam had left one of his notes this time saying ‘I’m afraid to tell you there are no policies left’.  I’ve great confidence in Cruddas but the longer he has the better armed Labour will be at the next election.

By 2015 Labour will probably have more money, more policies and at current progress a more assured leader. The Opposition’s advantage will be likely to get stronger. Inevitably David Cameron will have to deal with more bad news in implementing more spending cuts – the bulk of which have not yet been implemented along with tax rises. There will be mishaps, possibly some resignations and potentially more frustrated and overlooked backbenchers. If the economy worsens rather than recovers and boundary changes fall or are delayed then why wait? George Osborne may be able to find some good news and manufacture significant national feel-good factor in the early months of 2015, but does the Prime Minister really want to bet his political life on it?

    An early election is still unlikely, but I’m increasingly thinking it is by no means impossible. And if he were to make his move before 2015 then the PM should consider it sooner rather than later.

Henry G Manson