I wrote in the Times last August about Brexit that “the most likely cathartic event is neither a new prime minister nor a second referendum but a general election”. Of which there is talk again in the Westminster Village. William Hague is reportedly saying that the media is underestimating the chances of a poll.
As Mark Wallace points out, the former Foreign Secretary pressed for an election before Theresa May obtained one in 2017. We know how that turned out.
For the record, this site believed that she’d increase her majority, once she called it. But we were very dubious about her calling the poll in the first place. We take the same view now (as may Hague). For although an election could become unavoidable before too long, believing that one could happen isn’t the same as thinking it should happen. Here are some questions that help illustrate why.
- What would the manifesto say about Brexit?
- If it repackaged Theresa May’s deal, how would Conservative MPs who believe that No Deal is now inevitable, or back Norway Plus, or a Canada-type deal, or a second referendum, respond?
- If it didn’t propose ruling out No Deal, what would the Cabinet group headed by Philip Hammond say and do?
- If it did rule out No Deal, what would the Cabinet members who backed Leave in the EU referendum, plus Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt, do?
- Would the manifesto rule out extending Article 50?
- How would May go about seeking to prevent a 1997-election type revolt – that time round, it was about ruling out joining the Euro – from Leavers? Would she be prepared to bar the candidacies of hardline pro-Leave MPs?
- By the same token, would she be prepared to bar the candidacies of their pro-Remain equivalents?
- How would the Party handle Associations seeking to deselect their MPs?
- What would the manifesto say about everything else bar Brexit? The spending review? Tax? Social care? Universal Credit? Reducing net migration “to the tens of thousands”? Health and food and lifestyle? Selective schools? Knife crime? The pursuit of British servicemen through the courts? Tuition fees? Home ownership? HS2? And what would it say about how Britain should be different after Brexit?
- In particular, what would it say about Scotland, and what role would Ruth Davidson and/or Scottish Conservative MPs have in drawing up the contents, if any, especially about fishing?
- What’s to stop the election turning into one on other matters than Brexit entirely, as the last one did?
- Would the Party run candidates against the DUP in Northern Ireland?
- Who would run the manifesto process – since Chris Skidmore, who was in charge of the Party’s policy review, has now been made a Minister and not replaced?
- Would the Pickles review recommendations for drawing up the next Conservative manifesto be implemented – in other words, would senior Ministers play a major part in overseeing it?
- Who would write it?
- Since successive Party leaders have outsourced the running of recent election campaigns, who would run this one? (Labour’s team from last time round would presumably remain much the same.)
- Since Lynton Crosby is reported to be advising Boris Johnson, how could he return to CCHQ to spearhead a campaign?
- Would such a solution be desirable anyway, given the Crosby/Textor/Messina contribution to the failure of the last campaign?
- Even if it was, would Crosby accept this poisoned chalice in any event?
- And why would anyone else do so, either – such as James Kanagasooriam? Dominic Cummings? (Who wouldn’t be asked anyway.)
- In the absence of anyone else, has CCHQ really got the capacity to run an election campaign in-house, especially at almost no notice?
- Given almost no notice, is CCHQ in a position to identify the right target seats?
- If it can, doesn’t it need an equivalent of Team 2015 to help campaign in them and canvass them? (And there isn’t one.)
- Even if there was one, is the prospect of a Corbyn Government enough to get Party activists out campaigning, or will disillusion with the May Government hold them back?
- What’s the answer to the same question when applied to donors?
And that’s all more or less off the top of my head. There will be many more questions and better ones too.
P.S: And before you ask, the Fixed Terms Parliament Act isn’t an insuperable barrier to an election, as the events of 2017 proved.
P.P.S: The Prime Minister has of course promised recently, as before the 2017 poll, that she definitely won’t seek one…