Another hung parliament means another general election

December 3, 2019

 

The opinion polls for the 2019 election are gradually changing. The Conservatives retain a significant lead, but recent Survation and ICM polls shows Labour closing the gap. This is seen when looking at the Welsh YouGov poll in which Labour have gained nine points since early November. It was at this same point in the 2017 campaign - after all the main manifestos were released - that Labour significantly increased their support. As we all know, the 2017 general election resulted in a hung Parliament. Could the same thing happen again? Could the House of Commons - for the third time in less than a decade - contain no party with an overall majority?

 

It has been assumed Boris Johnson’s Conservatives would triumph over Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. Johnson, an excellent campaigner, won the London mayoralty twice despite its Labour leanings. His campaign message of ‘Get Brexit Done’, is highly inaccurate as if we leave with Johnson’s deal on the 31st January 2020, that is only the start of complex negotiations that could last decades. Despite this, the slogan is  likely to win over people desperate for a conclusion to Brexit as every other party is offering a second referendum. When one combines this with Labour’s shameful anti-semitism, a victory for Boris Johnson, though not certain, is highly likely.

 

This mirrors Theresa May’s ‘Strong and Stable’ message in 2017, which fell apart during the campaign. Its constant repetition contrasted her failure to provide decisive leadership. Johnson has proven himself inept throughout the campaign, he was; unable to provide a swift response to the Yorkshire flooding, failed to release the Security Committee's report into Russian interference in elections and faced the resignation of his Welsh secretary. Johnson has also not dealt well with multiple prospective Conservative candidates being forced to stand down due to making previous ill-judged remarks. While Corbyn remains deeply flawed, he has proven himself as a campaigner, travelling around the country to key marginal seats, with, up until his Andrew Neil interview, no disasters in any media appearances. Suddenly, a hung parliament doesn’t seem such an unorthodox prediction. 

 

Let us assume the next Parliament doesn’t look dramatically different from the one that has been dissolved. The Conservatives remain the largest party but without an overall majority of 326 seats. They again rely on DUP MPs who refuse to support Johsnon’s Brexit deal but provide parliamentary stability to prevent Jeremy Corbyn snatching at power. The probability is that few Labour MPs will support the Conservative’s deal, arguing a hung Parliament reduced Johnson's mandate for his Brexit agreement. Parliament fails, yet again, to agree on a version of Brexit.

 

What happens then? Johnson called an election to seek a majority for his Brexit Agreement. That would have completely failed. Ironically, under first-past-the-post (a system that’s main advantage is forming strong leadership), we would have no stable government. Johnson wouldn’t want another election or referendum, but, unable to pass his Brexit vision, would probably be forced into applying for a further Article 50 extension to facilitate another election. 

 

This assumes he would be allowed to carry on as leader. Given that Brexit may have succeeded had Theresa May stepped down in 2017, many Conservative colleagues might believe that Johnson should be removed. He will face huge criticism and pressure to resign having failed electorally to defeat Corbyn. The January 31st deadline would mean opposition MPs use parliamentary procedures to ensure Britain cannot leave the EU without a deal. The conflict between Parliament and the executive would have returned. A 2020 election would not seem ludicrous. 

 

The opposite outcome is just as fraught with uncertainty and instability. Assume Jeremy Corbyn with 280 seats cobbles together a rainbow coalition purely to hold a second referendum. The Lib Dems don’t want Corbyn in Downing Street, but feel they can restrain him from implementing other policies. With their strong appetite for a second referendum they may just show willing to support a leader they hold in low regard. The SNP, with Corbyn’s promise that a second Scottish independence referendum will be allowed if they attain a majority of seats in the 2021 Scottish elections, may also support Corbyn. They, alongside the Lib Dems are calling for another vote on Brexit, together they could pressure him to call a second referendum. The numbers for primary legislation are there.

 

Following that referendum, those parties no longer have any reason to support Labour’s administration, whatever the outcome. Corbyn’s new EU deal - if he was able to achieve one - wouldn’t be supported by pro-EU parties. 280 seats or thereabouts is unsustainable for passing legislation within Parliament. Another election would be required. 

 

Parliament has been paralysed. This would be permanent if the Commons had a proportional system used. Deals would be negotiated after every election behind closed doors as, chances are, no one party could ever command a majority. The 2017 deal between the Conservatives and DUP, where a confidence and supply arrangement was formed in return for an extra £1 billion for Northern Ireland, though widely criticised, would be normal in a proportional system. Just look at the repeated elections in Spain and Israel where the executive has been unable to govern. Ironically, advocates of proportional representation often lament how Brexit has created such intransigence. That would be the permanent under proportional representation. 

 

The British systems allows coalitions to be formed within parties before an election, allowing people to unite around two major parties who have a realistic chance of governing. The public shouldn’t be afraid however to look beyond the traditional two main parties ad instead vote for a party that better reflects their ideology. No seat is completely safe in these politically volatile times. According to the BBC, nearly a quarter of constituencies are marginal, as the winning candidate in 2017 only had a majority of under 10%. Everything is to play for come December 12th. However, while pragmatism is vital in politics, parties should determine their ideological and political outlook before presenting it to the voters rather than negotiating their political direction after an election.

 

Image: Flickr 

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