Election Timing: It’s Complicated

Warning against Premature Miscalculation, MARK PERRYMAN isn’t overflowing with enthusiasm for Labour to back an early General Election

For readers of a certain age the old WRP rhyming couplet ‘ TUC get off yer knees, General Strike now’ might ring the odd bell. Ever since Planet Placard became a sea of ‘General Strike NOW!’ Until recently that is with a shift to the now preferred ‘ General Election NOW!’ which I’vee always thought a tad contradictory as the placards are printed mainly by revolutionary socialist organisations. Lenin must be turning in his mausoleum.

These are slogans, mouthed (or more likely shouted) by the Labour Left too, to make the heart warm, ideological comfort blankets rather than anything resembling a political strategy. Unlike countries across Western Europe who seem to have General Strikes on an almost yearly basis we haven’t had a General Strike for the best part of a century, and that one we lost. And as for General Elections, Labour not having won one for 14 years a bit of thought about when best to fight one, and in what circumstances wouldn’t go amiss.

OK, OK we all know parliamentary politics is in a right old mess. Apart from each party’s activist class who remain fixated by Brexit shenanigans its a massive turnoff for almost everybody else and certainly not firing up a wider constituency towards anything resembling an effective resolution. The recent poll saying a majority believe physical attacks on MPs were justified should both not surprise and worry at the same time.

This mess therefore is hard for the Left to grasp any kind of way out of, let alone explain how in a way to build support. But that doesn’t mean we should mistake slogans for strategy.

A handy first strategic principle would be that anything Johnson/Cummings want is likely to be in their own interests and pretty bad for everyone else. And a second, in parliament only a united opposition will stop Johnson/Cummings getting what they want. So last week Johnson gets his #ToryBrexit bill 2nd reading thanks to that oxymoron, the ‘Tory Rebels’ backing him and the 19 leave-supporting Labour MPs. But with most of the rebels and most of Labour’s leave supporters joining Labour, SNP, Lib-Dems, Plaid, Green and now DUP voting against he loses control of the parliamentary timetable and has to face what Johnson/Cummings fear most, scrutiny. Score-draw.

Hardly headline-grabbing but important nevertheless.

Johnson/Cummings promptly throw toys out of pram, refusing to submit to scrutiny and seek to force a December General Election instead. ‘Yipee’ and ‘Bring it On’ shout Jeremy’s cheerleaders in a wile orgy of premature miscalulation. In contrast, after a couple of hours to think about it (always a good idea premature miscalculators – especially those with a media platform) Labour, Lib Dems, SNP say, no, we’re not falling for that. Whoops.

And they were right. Under scrutiny the Johnson/Cummings deal will fall apart, the few extra votes they gained for the 2nd reading can be peeled off, EU working rights legislation, environmental protections, a customs union inserted and just possibly a confirmatory referendum. A sensible outcome that the ERG’ers would then vote against. Johnson/Cummings disown their own bill, then, and only then, force a General Election.

That’s what I would call a plan, not a slogan.

So far, so good. Then Sunday morning the Lib-Dems break ranks. Betraying a bewildering inability to misread the sequence of events they now want to abandon the scrutiny, grant the Tories their dearest wish, an early General Election free from parliamentary defeat, after defeat and humiliation they were in all likelihood about to suffer. Johnson looks to be taking up the idea, for precisely this reason. The Tories’ little helper once more eh Jo?

Self-indulgent and self-defeating madness. Oh and in the process, an amendment to the Fixed Terms Parliament Act, abandoning one of the few pieces of legislation the Lib Dems from the Con-Dem coalition years can be proud of. Fixed Terms rob PMs of the right to call General Elections at the time of their own choosing, strengthening the legislature at the expense of the executive. The Lib Dems would sacrifice all this for the sake of a December compared to say, a Feb, election?!

Yes, it’s complicated, doesn’t fit well on a placard ‘ General Election, Not Now, But at a time of our own Choosing’. No, not very snappy but not wrong either

Mark Perryman’s new book Corbynism from Below, published by Lawrence & Wihart is available here