5.15pm: A thought occurs, watching the glum Labour benches in the Commons. What reason do Labour MPs have for turning out to vote for a General Election tomorrow? If you’re a Corbyn loyalist – say 20 per cent of them at most – then you’ll follow the Whip and back the motion. But if you’re anyone else, why would you go through with it rather than muck up the whole process for May? You wouldn’t even have to vote against, you could just not turn up – the supermajority required is two thirds of the entire House, ie 434 MPs, so not voting at all still counts. What’s the risk for them in doing so? If Labour blocks it, then they look weak and ridiculous – but Jeremy Corbyn is their leader, they look weak and ridiculous already. If you face losing your seat, or keeping your seat as your party is badly beaten, then you might think it is at minimum worth disrupting May’s plans, and forcing her to take Route B, which requires Conservative MPs to vote no confidence in the Government. No doubt this will be discussed at tonight’s PLP meeting – worth watching the result tomorrow.
3.50pm: Readers will be variously disappointed or delighted to learn that there won’t be any election debates this time round. Channel 4’s Gary Gibbon reports that CCHQ and Downing Street are categorically ruling out the idea. Not everyone agrees – in the House of Commons just now, Nigel Evans just urged Theresa May to “go head-to-head in as many TV debates with the Leader of the Opposition as possible”, to general amusement on the Government benches, though the Leader of the House was noncommittal in his reply.
Fans of political deathmatches need not be disappointed, though – the Parliamentary Labour Party has called an emergency meeting this evening, at which either Corbyn or one of his Shadow Cabinet is likely to come in for a pummelling.
2.45pm: Interesting times in the distant land of Remainia. The Lib Dems are whooping about an election, offering them as it does a chance to intensify their efforts to become a pro-EU UKIP, capitalising on the false hopes and grievances of those who still want to ignore the referendum outcome. In those areas where it’s a red/yellow fight, the Labour Party seems worried – Bermondsey Labour is organising a rally and campaigning session this evening to kick off their efforts to hold the seat.
Meanwhile, “Open Britain”, the rebranded Remain campaign, have pledged to campaign for any candidate who opposes May’s Brexit plans – an offer any Tory MP would be courageous to take up, no matter what their views. Not everyone is up for the fight, however. AC Grayling, the philosopher who has been increasingly erratic since the referendum, is trying to persuade Labour MPs to vote against holding an election at all, despite his previous assertions that a vast majority secretly support staying in the EU.
For one senior Remain campaigner, this is apparently the end of the road. The Telegraph‘s Kate McCann reports that Alan Johnson, who ran Labour In, will not be seeking re-election. That’s two Labour MPs who aren’t up for knocking on doors to argue for Jeremy Corbyn to become Prime Minister. How many others will follow?
1.45pm: Minds now turn to the mechanics of how the Conservative General Election campaign will work:
- How will candidates be selected? Most seats that aren’t already Conservative held don’t have candidates in place, and some Tory MPs aren’t standing again (such as Ken Clarke, for example). There is now a very short timescale to get a lot of candidates in place. One option is for the Party to implement by-election rules, under which CCHQ produces a shortlist of three for the association to choose from. That’s obviously quick, but it also means a lot of power shifting from the local parties to the centre, selecting some people who could go on to be MPs for decades.
- Will Crosby be involved? He and his firm are still on retainer for the Conservative Party, and he did of course play a crucial role in delivering the 2015 victory. The New Statesman reported recently that he had briefed the Prime Minister on his latest polling, including a warning about the Lib Dems’ resurgence. So he could be available to repeat the feat of designing the Tory message. Whether his analytical view of how to win matches with the Prime Minister’s personal vision for her government remains is also a question.
- Who will manage the campaign itself? Most of the senior figures in the 2015 campaign have now left – either moving on to pastures new after the majority was secured, or going when Cameron and Feldman resigned after the referendum. One name that springs to mind is Stephen Parkinson, the Prime Minister’s Political Secretary. A former SpAd at the Home Office, he is one of her trusted inner circle, and has hard-edged campaign experience, having been the National Organiser for Vote Leave, running all of their campaign operations.
1pm: There are of course various other elections taking place between now and June. There’s the Manchester Gorton by-election, several mayoral elections and local elections in many parts of the country. One added side benefit of having a General Election coming up is that it ensures that Jeremy Corbyn will be squarely in voters’ minds when they go to polling stations for these other contests. It’s been very visible since he was first elected Labour leader that the Conservatives are extremely keen to tar his Party’s wider reputation with his hugely damaging reputation – the timing of the national campaign helps that to happen at a local level, too.
One oddity also arises – apparently the plan is for the Gorton by-election to go ahead, which would mean the seat elects an MP to a Parliament which has just been dissolved, and then presumably has to vote again a few weeks later. I imagine voters there won’t be very happy at the prospect of having to go through it all twice.
12.15pm: If you missed the Prime Minister’s statement, our video of it is now online here. Some other knock-on effects of the election decision:
- Jeremy Corbyn is not exactly radiating confidence. Asked if he is the next Prime Minister, he replied: “If we win the election, yes.” He’s also reported to have refused to say if he will stand down if he loses.
- As various people have pointed out, this changes the picture regarding the outcome of investigations into various seats in the 2015 General Election. MPs could still potentially be liable as individuals, but the idea of overturning results and holding by-elections surely vanishes once those seats have been refought at a new General Election.
- The fallout from UKIP’s decline continues. Arron Banks has confirmed he will stand against Douglas Carswell in Clacton. Paul Nuttall says he welcomes the election, but criticises the decision as “it is driven by Labour’s obvious weakness, not the good of the country”. There’s no news yet of whether Nigel Farage will have another crack at Westminster – he’s apparently just got back from a fishing trip, literally rather than metaphorically.
11.45am: It looks like the election will go ahead unopposed in the House of Commons. Jeremy Corbyn has issued a statement saying “I welcome the Prime Minister’s decision to give the British people the chance to vote for a government that will put the interests of the majority first.” This is why May felt confident in issuing the challenge – there was next to no chance that her opponents would try to publicly bottle an election, despite the state of the polls. Meanwhile, there’s a big question over how many Labour MPs will stick around to fight for their seats. Tom Blenkinsop has just said that he won’t seek re-election – his Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland seat was the site of the Conservatives’ first gain on the council in 20 years last week. Others might yet follow him.
11.20am: Welcome to our live blog. Theresa May has just delivered a statement in Downing Street, announcing that she will bring a motion to the House of Commons tomorrow, seeking to hold a General Election on Thursday 8th June. A few first thoughts:
- This wasn’t always her plan. Only a few weeks ago, Downing Street was strongly rejecting any suggestion of a snap election. The Prime Minister said she had taken the decision “reluctantly”, and cited the threats by opposition parties and the Lords to disrupt Brexit. But she will also have been spurred to the decision by the record poll leads she enjoys over Corbyn.
- She’s seeking a Brexit mandate. Her speech explicitly quoted the three core Vote Leave messages, saying: “We will regain control of our own money, our own laws and our own borders”. The dual rationale of her decision is to gain a strong endorsement of her position before the Brexit talks begin and to capitalise on Labour’s continuing disarray on the topic.
- It’s a direct challenge to the other parties. By taking route one of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, she requires a super-majority in the Commons. That means daring the other parties to try to block an election – the Lib Dems have already said they will vote for it.
- It’s on the old boundaries. There had been a general assumption May would wait for boundary reform, but in the background there were mutterings that the changes weren’t certain to pass. Incidentally, this also means George Osborne (whose seat was set to be abolished) will have to choose if he will seek re-election to be an MP at the same time as becoming Evening Standard editor.
- The message is already clear. In her statement, the Prime Minister not only laid out the importance of a strong and stable government to deliver a successful Brexit, but she contrasted it with the prospect of a “weak” coalition led by Corbyn, “propped up by the Liberal Democrats…and Nicola Sturgeon”. This is the 2015 Miliband/Salmond message, writ large.
- The work now begins. Not only must tomorrow’s vote be won, and the campaign built, but the Conservative Party will have to select a lot of candidates very quickly.