An Early Election?


Today is polling day for national elections in Wales & Scotland, council elections in much of England, the Leicester South by-election, and the Referendum on a new electoral system for the House of Commons. As all the political commentators are saying, it is the first major electoral test of the coalition; and all the parties are frantically trying to downplay their chances so that whatever the results, they can be spun as a success.

I am not going to indulge in speculation on the result of the voting, but I am interested in the speculation on what happens if the Libdems get the kicking in the ballots that everyone expects. Will it trigger an early general election?

The premise of much of this speculation is that Cameron will emerge strong, having not had too many losses at a council level and having decisively got the result he wanted in the referendum. By contrast Ed Miliband will have lost Scotland and the referendum, and perhaps not scored the thousand plus council seat gains being expected. Worst of all is Nick Clegg, ending the process even more weakened. With all of this, and a rebellious rump of right wing MPs, the speculation supposes that the Prime Minister would be best off going for an election that he might win, rather than limp on with a lame duck deputy who wants to further aggravate the Tories with Lords Reform.

What this forgets is the Fixed Term Parliaments Bill that is currently completing it’s electoral journey.

This Bill will soon be law and would make it illegal for the Prime Minister to ask the Queen for a dissolution in those circumstances. My understanding is that there are only two ways of having an early election before the end of the five year fixed term. Either two thirds of MPs vote for early dissolution, or the Government loses a vote of no confidence and then no alternative government emerges after 14 days.

This makes the options much more interesting for everyone except the Prime Minister and Nick Clegg. A two thirds majority means it needs both Labour and Conservatives to want a dissolution, as things stand in this Parliament. That seems very unlikely. But the dynamic around the vote of no confidence gives much more power to disgruntled Libdem activists.

Much as happened in 1932 when the National Liberal Federation pushed the Liberals out of coalition, activists could turn on Nick Clegg and force him to lead their party out of Government. Or find a new leader who will.

The assumption has been that this will never happen because David Cameron would respond by calling an election when the Libdems would get wiped out. But under this new bill, this can’t happen without the collusion of Labour in the dissolution vote, or by Cameron forcing a vote of no confidence. If he forced such a vote, a Libdem abstention means Cameron wins the confidence vote and has to continue as a minority government, until the Opposition parties are ready to combines and defeat him. The other option of the Libdems doing a deal with Labour to form a new coalition seems a little unlikely right now, even if it fits more naturally with most Libdem instincts.

Either way it seems that Royal Assent for the Fixed Term Parliaments Bill might backfire on the coalition who saw it is a way of supergluing them together. Far from it. It may give unhappy Libdem ex-councillors the real possibility of forcing the party out of government and into a short period of Opposition whilst a weakened David Cameron limps on at the head of a minority government.

14 comments for “An Early Election?

  1. maude elwes
    05/05/2011 at 5:13 pm

    Then again, he may lose badly and that would be the end of him.

    I was at the polls earlier and the turn out wasn’t too bad for that time of day. And I think the, Yes, may have it. On the other hand, the, No, could sneak in because of fraudulent voting…….

    • Dave H
      05/05/2011 at 7:28 pm

      That could work both ways. I’ve seen claims that in some parts of the country people aren’t being offered a referendum ballot along with their local election one, and other places are asking people if they want them. I just got handed both without question or comment, filled them in and put them in the boxes.

      Our voting system is very lax compared to some places, mostly because we have a tradition of not cheating – there are cases of electoral fraud but usually on a small scale by individuals rather than by national parties. No doubt the rigorous ID checks will come, but I sort of like the informality and the trust with the current system.

      • Dave H
        08/05/2011 at 1:37 pm

        Further to this, I’ve seen an explanation of why people might be asked if they want a referendum ballot paper:

        If you’re a student you can legally vote in local elections at your home address and your student address if they’re for different councils, but can only cast a single vote in the referendum. As such, there are obviously cases where someone does not (or should not) vote in a particular ballot in a particular polling station.

  2. Carl.H
    06/05/2011 at 8:48 am

    I think Parliament and politicians put too much weight behind local elections being meaningful in terms of Government approval or disapproval.

    A local election is often decided on one local issue and has little to do with Parliament.

    The Lib-dems will, I believe, carry on in this coalition as they are too weak to do anything other. They face a black hole no matter which way they turn, the lies and deceit have been registered and will not be forgiven easily. They are the clingy lover desperately holding onto a broken relationship because they have nothing else. No one can feel sorry for them because they show no gumption.

  3. markwilson
    06/05/2011 at 12:07 pm

    The LibDems took the kicking in the ballots that was widely expected. And it appears much of the reason is the distrust of the party’s leader – and Government’s Deputy Prime Minister – Nick Clegg. So, does this monstrous anti-LibDem spell out a warning to Clegg? And, if so, how does the Prime Minister react?

    The fact is the huge number of disappointed, disaffected LibDem candidates, member and supporters can choose to change their leader, and replace him with someone who could lead them out of the alliance that is causing their downfall.

    Cameron would then be forced to decide whom to replace Clegg with as Deputy Prime Minister. And his decision could well be to keep Nick Clegg in place, as a focus of scorn, to deflect blame from the Tories and to punish the LibDems further.

    We could well see a decapitated LibDem party, with a lame-duck Deputy Prime Minster in its ranks.

  4. maude elwes
    06/05/2011 at 3:49 pm

    The reason the Lib Dems are suffering is obvious. They lied and lied and lied again when they told those who voted for them they were for certain policies and principles, yet, turned their back on them the minute they got a little power.

    Cable didn’t stick it to the bankers, and then wanted even more immigration. It seemed all he worried about was getting more immigrants for business than more places in universities for those who voted for his team. Cleg likewise.

    As I have written so many times on this site, worrying about the rest of the world’s population when they are not the people who keep you in power is a mugs game. And it’s time the voter showed their dissapproval. Perhaps now some of the people who think they can disregard the British public the way they do now will sit up and realise they only have until the next election to get themselves sorted.

    And, the only reason any of them were back in their job tomorrow is because, unlike Scotland, there is no acceptable alternative in England.

    Labour was all the people could use to show their disquiet to the Conservatives, with their Lib Dem collusion. Had we been as fortunate as the Scots, and had an SNP and Salmond to turn to, those duplicitous politicians too, would have been out on their ear as quick as a flash.

    And what is Salmond offering in his first year. A referendum. Amongst other policies.

    What he better be sure of though, is that he can deliver and does other wise he too will be forced out of office at the quickest turn.

  5. Gareth Howell
    06/05/2011 at 5:17 pm

    Political intrigue. Arggh!

  6. Carl.H
    06/05/2011 at 6:45 pm

    Re: Your AV stand.

    “You’re not singing anymore” !

    Common sense seems to have prevailed and AV been rejected wholeheatedly, quite rightly.

  7. Twm o'r Nant
    07/05/2011 at 8:26 am

    If AV had been decided on by a number of questions it might have made more sense to the voter?

    a Yes/No referendum vote resembles an FPTP vote, so how can the voter possibly vote in favour?

    Procedure, my dear Watson, Procedure!

    A referend-um as ill thought out as the Regional assemblies referend-um in 2004(?),
    which would have led to Bill and Act, and which was only conducted in one region.

  8. Twm o'r Nant
    07/05/2011 at 8:31 am

    If AV had been decided on by a number of questions it might have made more sense to the voter?

    a Yes/No referendum vote resembles an FPTP vote, so how can the voter possibly vote in favour?

    Procedure, my dear Watson, Procedure!

    A referend-um as ill thought out as the Regional assemblies referend-um in 2004(?),
    which would have led to Bill and Act, and which was only conducted in one region.

    How to explain to the voter that AV is an exercise in AI (Artificial Intelligence)
    is another matter altogether. That would be quite ridiculous and easily make politicians seem as though they were trying to create robots out of all of us.

    FPTP? That’s just voting!

    • Dave H
      07/05/2011 at 10:37 am

      When there are only two options, AV and FPTP amount to the same thing.

  9. maude elwes
    07/05/2011 at 5:49 pm

    Well, we all know what took place.


    However, it was decisive, even if obscurely put. It was a second rate offering to PR so perhaps just as well.

  10. Twm O'r Nant
    08/05/2011 at 9:19 am

    So if there had been four or five different questions in the referendum, the result might have been very different.

    Mr Clegg has some thinking to do about the coalition, and LK may be right about early elections.

    Two years might be better, but it does not give coalition governments much of a chance unless of course the Labour vote recovered, at the expense of a Conservative one, which it will just no do, and has not done.

    If it did and the largest party vote having the right to choose its coalition partner, we would then make a little progress.

    A competent labour leader would make a difference.

    • maude elwes
      08/05/2011 at 3:55 pm

      Neither can recover because they are not representative of the wishes of the nation. Labour betrayed its core voter in favour of some idealistic agenda it considered more important. So, thank goodness for democracy. The voter will get rid of those who disrespect their needs.

      The one thing Clegg has to accept is, he played the game and lost. That is what politics are about. No one did a dirty. What happened was, he was not smart enough to outsmart those who wanted to win. Therefore he was not up to the job. In other words, he didn’t see it coming, which he should have if he is selling himself as the man of the people.

      And if Cameron doesn’t address the promises he made to the public who voted for him, his fate will be the same. All he can be grateful for is, there was no electable alternative akin to the SNP and Alex Salmond in England.

      Although Salmond will find himself in a similar position if he continues with his idea of open borders and welcoming mass immigration, as he is claiming in his manifesto. It appears he is raising the prospect of Scotland becoming a haven for refugees. And in his position, with Scottish the finances, that is asinine. Otherwise he has a near perfect platform to fascinate and change this country’s politics forever.

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