A Strategy for a Hung Parliament?

With the opinion polls all over the place nothing is clear in the last week of campaigning, but the possibility of a hung parliament has to be considered. One poll with a week to go put the Tories having a 3% lead, another a 12% lead, and the latter is more likely. But the prospect of a hung parliament and Labour having to fess up to challenging May is now worth thinking about. Paul Mason (in the Financial Times of 3rd June) called for Labour to ‘pledge his willingness to govern from the centre… should signal he would form a government with cross party support in parliament, at the very least from the Greens and the progressive nationalist parties’. That raises more questions than answers, but is not what the Front Bench is stating is political stance is going to be anyway.

The Guardian on 1st June reported that Corbyn and Thornberry at a rally in the odd venue of Basildon, considered the options if Labour were the largest party but had no majority. Corbyn echoed Tim Farron in rejecting coalitions, the two leaders clearly aware the coalitions are not popular, stating “We’re not doing deals, we are not doing coalitions, we are not doing any of these things. We are fighting to win this election”. Which is all well and good, but McCluskey of Unite said two weeks earlier that Labour would do well if it did not lose many seats, and to win the election would need Labour holding all its marginals and taking seats off its opponents, especially in Scotland.

However the comment by Emily Thornberry was more important.

She said “We are fighting to win and we are fighting to win a majority. If we end up in a position where we are in a minority, then we will go ahead and put forward a Queen’s speech and a budget, and if people want to vote for it, then good, but if people don’t want to vote for it, then they going to have to go back and speak to their constituents and explain it to them, why we have a Tory government instead. Those are the conversations we have had. No Deals”.

This needs teasing out. If Labour is the largest party, and Corbyn is called to the Palace and becomes PM with no majority, this comment means the front bench are planning to put their plans to the Commons and risking being defeated. If that happened, the Tories would then be the next in line and Corbyn could be the PM with the shortest time in office on record. Blaming the other parties would not be much consolation if the Tories stitched up a deal, as they unlike the Lib Dems and Labour, have said nothing about ruling out coalitions so far.

While it is  very unlikely that the Tories could produce a coalition, and the SNP and others are likely to put pressure on Labour to stay in office with some kind of arrangement, the idea of any ad hoc arrangement lasting 5 years is nonsense. The elephant in the room becomes the Fixed Term Parliament Act (FTPA) which though invoked to get the early election, is still on the statute book as the Tories expected to win and survive without challenge for 5 years. But as the Act can be by passed by a two thirds majority (unlikely) or a vote of no confidence (possible) then it becomes central to what happens next.

If Labour lost its Queens Speech and Budget – the Queens Speech alone would trigger a crisis if rejected – then the Tories and minority parties might well then want to trigger a vote of no confidence, and if won, Labour would be out in the cold and suffer irreparable damage. The thinking of leadership amounts to Labour putting its future in the hands of its opponents.

Is there a way out? Yes – the first thing to do is to propose that the FTPA be repealed. If repealed, then Labour has the whip hand and can call an election if the Queen’s Speech and-or Budget is rejected. If not repealed then the consequences fall on the opposition parties and Labour is off the hook. It has always been clear that a crisis which cannot be resolved by a General Election, as happened in 1974 and 1910 (two elections in both years) has been implicit in the FTPA.

I am no fan of the Fixed Term Parliament Act for precisely this reason. Now Labour should call time on the Act and give itself the wriggle room to call an election, which Jezza in Number 10 could do once the Act was gone, if the other parties then proved obstructive. With the chance that Labour could win a majority in the second election, it gains credibility and puts the ball in the court of the other parties – on its own terms. It is time to make the repeal of the Act the first item on the agenda if Labour is called on to form a government.

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