by Atul Hatwal
Over the last few days the true weakness of Theresa May’s parliamentary position has been revealed.
May’s small majority means that less than ten disgruntled Tory backbenchers can confidently block her plans. Lest we forget, 35 sacked Cameroon ministers sit on the backbenches courtesy of her first act as PM.
Last Wednesday, following the Brexit U-turn, Uncut highlighted the increased likelihood of an early election for May to boost her majority so that she could pass her programme. On Saturday, Sam Coates in the Times similarly wrote of the rising prospect of an early poll.
Now Uncut hears that MPs from across the main parties have started to informally discuss how to prevent the Fixed Term Parliament Act (FTPA) being circumvented to trigger an early election.
What unites these MPs is a desire to stop hard Brexit which would be enabled by the inevitable, sizeable Tory majority following any contest between May’s Tories and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.
If Theresa May wanted to call an early election she has two options: repeal the Fixed Term Parliament Act and re-institute the previous arrangements or call a vote of no confidence and whip the government to be defeated, paving the way for an election (there is another option – under the FTPA, a two-thirds majority in parliament can trigger an election but that requires both Conservative and Labour support which is fanciful)
The first option is virtually impossible because of the parliamentary weakness which makes an early election desirable for Theresa May.
There would easily be enough Conservative rebels to defeat any attempt at FTPA repeal and replacement.
The no confidence vote has always been more likely, especially given Jeremy Corbyn’s stated position that Labour would welcome an early election.
In a rare act of unity, PLP leadership loyalists and moderate rebels have been largely genuine in their commitment to bring down May with a motion of no confidence and launch into an election, if the opportunity arose.
For the Corbynistas, the symbolism of bringing down a Tory government would be totemic.
For many moderates, the electoral apocalypse would conclusively demonstrate the futility of Corbynism and enable the remnants of Labour that survived the deluge to start on the long road back to electability.
However, over the past week, Labour’s calculus has begun to shift as the prospect of a poll has become more real.
For Labour’s hard left, an election that was held before their grip on the party machine had been consolidated would leave them vulnerable following defeat to the Tories.
For example, if the threshold for PLP nominations for leader had not been lowered from 15% to 5%, as they have long hankered for, it’s unlikely any candidate from the hard left could even make it onto the ballot.
The raison d’etre of Jeremy Corbyn’s inner circle is to take control of the Labour party as a vehicle for their ideology. An early election could threaten that.
Moderates have also begun to rethink their approach. Their priority is similar to that of the Tory rebels – to stop hard Brexit. Currently, the parliamentary arithmetic means hard Brexit is impossible.
The bulk of the PLP is passionately opposed to tumbling out of the EU on WTO terms with all of the economic chaos that such a policy entails. Whether soft left or traditional right, events of the last week have demonstrated that the best chance of influencing the terms of Brexit will be to keep Theresa May right where she is – a Prime Minister who serves at the legislature’s pleasure.
In this context of shifting Labour sands, the chances of an early election have already begun to diminish, just a week after they rose and MPs started to understand the implications from an early vote.
It is perhaps the ultimate expression of Theresa May’s weakness – not only is she incapable of implementing many of her policies, she is unable even to bring her own administration down at a time of her choosing.
Instead, she is likely to find herself imprisoned, in office but not in power, with an alliance of Tory rebels, Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP as her gaolers.
Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut