The real defeat for Corbyn and Farron was when Theresa May suckered them into voting for an early election

by Trevor Fisher

The June 8th election will set a new low for political manipulation in British politics. It is run only for the short term advantage of the Conservative party being a classic cut and run while you are ahead move which the Fixed Term Parliament Act was designed to prevent from happening. Historically May scored her biggest victory over the Lib Dems and Labour when they failed to defend the Act. The Tory gamble came off, as neither party had the political courage to call Theresa May’s bluff and vote against the election. The failures of Tim Corbyn and Jeremy Farron will be lasting.

This is the stolen election and a historical turning point. Unless Theresa May had stitched up the vote on the Early Election bill, unlikely as Tim and Jeremy are not going to do a deal openly with the Tories, she was gambling when she called the election, calculating she could get away with it despite the Fixed Term Parliament bill requiring 5 years before a general election – and promising the date would be May 2020.

Theresa May lulled the other parties into planning long term, and they were  caught out by the loophole in the Act which allowed an early election – if two thirds of MPs voted for an early election Bill, which needed 434 M Ps voting for it to pass. As the Tories did not have a two thirds majority only if Labour voted for the bill could this happen. Labour voted for the Bill, thus triggering an election which could only help the Tories. All the problems which were gathering around the Tory party notably election fraud allegations, the economy and major policy areas including prisons, May’s former job as Home Secretary making her responsible, were removed at a stroke.

The debate on 19th April, provided a sharp insight into why politicians are unpopular and seen as shifty and unreliable. The government claimed they needed a Brexit mandate, baloney as parliament had given them the mandate voting for Article 50, and the deal would be open to scrutiny by voters in 2019. Allowing an election this year means that a Tory victory on June 8th would allow them to ignore the voters after 2019 for three years. The Labour decision to let her off the hook and support her cut and run proposal puts May in charge of the agenda. Labour again failed to be an effective opposition.

It is worth noting that Corbyn and Abbott voted against repealing the Fixed Term Parliament Act on a Commons motion of 23rd October 2014, so would have been consistent in denying May her repeal and demanding she honour her promises of an election in 2020. This was not what  Labour did, and their votes on the Early Election Bill condemned them again to following a Tory Policy. As did the Lib Dems, the BBC report on May calling the election stating that ‘the main opposition parties have said they will support it’. Not apparently the SNP though, which abstained, but the Lib Dems did not and one important result of the April 19th debate is to cast doubt on whether the Lib Dems are an opposition party.

The handful of Lib Dem MPs could not stop the Bill, only Labour could do that, but a vote against would be symbolic and challenge May’s claim to have broad support for seeking a mandate to rule the country. She did not need a mandate on Brexit, and making this a single issue campaign was Machiavellian. The argument that an election a year after the Brexit deal would be destabilising is laughable, May is simply avoiding being held to account and the Lib Dems could have embarrassed both Labour and the Conservatives, by voting to uphold the FTPA. But Tim Farron’s group of nonentities decided to to abandon their principles and one of the few things they achieved in the Con Dem Coalition. It is a sign of the times that the man who claimed credit for the FTPA, Nick Clegg, did not manage to vote at the end of the debate.

Moreover Farron steadfastly refused to make a commitment not to go into coalition with the Tories. Compass and  others who want a progressive alliance should take note. The SNP hammered Farron, as their strategy requires them to destroy Labour and the Lib Dems to produce a Tory – SNP fight north of the border. Had Farron committed not to line up with the Tories and abandoned the Orange Liberal line that took them into Coalition with the Tories in 2010 that would have enabled him to build a presence in Scotland. That he did not do so gave the Nationalists exactly what they wanted.

What happens to the Lib Dems is only a side show, but ensures that this election will be the worst for the progressive movement since 1931. Labour is hamstrung and failed to reject the poisoned chalice of an election which John McDonnell said the party would take two years to prepare for. It has compromised as in the New Labour years but this time leaving the Blairites to its left over Europe, not a situation the party can benefit from. Meanwhile Farron’s ambiguity on a Tory coalition demonstrates he at least is not going to offer a challenge to Labour as a progressive force whatever his position on Europe.

Theresa May is clearly a limited Prime Minister, but as a party leader she is the Lewis Hamilton of political operators facing the dodgem car twins of Corbyn and Farron as they demonstrate that tacking to the right is the only option in town. For progressives, there is nothing to ally with however desirable the Compass strategy of holding back the Tory tide might be. As the Early Election debate on April 19th showed, there is now a dominant Tory party as there was in the Thatcher years. Bringing it down will require more than a progressive alliance which has no basis in reality, and no parliamentary ability to stop Theresa May when marching into the division lobbies against her is what is required.

Over the weekend he Lib Dems have issued a call for raising a 1p rate of income tax so a future Liberal government can fund the NHS. This was the central claim in 2010, dropped in 2015 and pure electioneering as there is no chance the Lib Dems can win an election. But an indication that they are playing a parliamentary game of pretending to be interested in the NHS, which they failed to do when in government. The record of the coalition is now being air brushed from history. More pertinently, they are aiming to take Labour votes by issuing a misleading but plausible attack on Corbyn’s record on Brexit. However there is no attempt to address why the Lib Dems voted for the election, when they could have shown themselves completely anti Tory by doing so. In the debate Farron refused to say whether he would go into coalition with the Tories. The debate on 19th April avoided most of the big issues. But on this issue, Farron’s refusal to answer the question was a telling one. Especially as he used the unlikelihood that the Tories would need their help to avoid the question.

Trevor Fisher was a member of the Labour Coordinating Committee executive 1987-90 and secretary of the Labour Reform Group 1995- 2007. He was a member of the Compass Executive 2007-2009

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19 Responses to “The real defeat for Corbyn and Farron was when Theresa May suckered them into voting for an early election”

  1. John. P Reid says:

    What defeat for Faron, libdems were the protest party, even some people who voted Ukip as a protest will go back to them, and although not like the asDP, in 83′ they’ll get votes from ex labour voters who don’t like Corbyn and ex Tories who dislike Mays views in grammar schools

    As for Corbyn, it’s obvious he wants the CLP disagreements over ,as such if he loses seats some if his critics have small majorities will go,and let’s face it, if there had been a election, 3 years from noe, lsbiurs vite wouldnt hwbe gone yo, but the Tory vote may go down,either way,it’s still not great for labour, even if it wouldn’t be so good for the Tories,

    Ehat it does show is that everyone is resigned to the fact, current pension pay outs, can’t be so high,and the days of a free NHS for everyone are over,even if labour had won

  2. NHSGP says:

    All the problems which were gathering around the Tory party notably election fraud allegations


    Why do you think Labour and the Lib dems voted yes? For the reason above

  3. Trevor, you say there’s been no attempt to address why the Lib Dems voted for the election. Maybe you’re right on that, but I can fix it anyway, in two paragraphs.

    If Farron had voted against the early election, it would have made no difference to the election being called. However, Tories and Labour supporters would have endlessly said he was afraid of facing the electorate. Be honest, you wouldn’t have been able to resist the temptation. That being so likely, Farron made the right decision.

    There would have been the option of saying something like: “the Crown Prosecution Service will soon report on whether Tories systematically broke electoral law in the last election. We should delay this election until it has reported.” But, I doubt Farron, when he gets so little media time, could have made that argument in a way that cut through. It might, however, have been an option for Corbyn.

  4. NHSGP says:

    Ehat it does show is that everyone is resigned to the fact, current pension pay outs, can’t be so high,and the days of a free NHS for everyone are over,even if labour had won


    Should have invested the money – the capitalist solution.

    Instead it was spent – the socialist solution – and now the public reap the consequences.

    Austerity – wealth ineqality – are direcltly caused by the debts.

    208 bn a year, 30% of taxes are going on state debts, mostly pensions.

  5. Hi Trevor,

    I know it’s a difficult time to keep up to date with everything, but you’ll be delighted to know that Tim Farron has stated:

    “There is no way we can countenance any kind of arrangement or coalition with the Conservative party and likewise with the Labour party led by Jeremy Corbyn,” Farron said. “He [Corbyn] accepted hard Brexit, he voted for it. He enabled it. It has put us in the situation we are now in.”

    I know we all make mistakes, but your article is misleading, so if you could add a comment below, acknowledging that Farron has ruled out a coalition with the Tories, that would be helpful.

  6. Tafia says:

    If Labour and the Lib Dems had opposed May,s bid for an early election they would straight away appear as weak, cowardly parties scared of taking the tories on.

    Months ago you were slagging May saying she didnt have the mandate to do waht she was trying to do, now she moves fro exactly that mandate you whine about that as well.

    You really are finished. And you won,t be missed.

  7. Duke Bouvier says:

    It was always clear that it would be very hard for an opposition party to refuse a motion to call an election.

    And let’s not forget that many Labour grandees claimed that Theresa May lacked legitimacy as PM because she did not have the mandate of a General Election. They can hardly then object when she does. If they didn’t want one then they should have avoided the lazy attack line when she first became PM.

    Anyway, the main motivation for the FTPA was for minority governments in coalitions, where a PM might go to the country without the support of the coalition partners who put them in office and without giving an alternative coalition the opportunity to form.

  8. Martin says:

    This was my immediate reaction at the time. At the very east Corbyn and co could have forced a delay. The obvious reason is that a snap election catches the opposition cold. Even delaying by a month would have made the point. However having rolled over for May on Brexit, repeating the trick was second nature.

    It is fairly pathetic to drag in the Lib Dems, the combined forces of Conservatives and Labour was a tidal wave. Admittedly, I think that the Lib Dems could have, at the least, proposed an alternative later date, but on this it was Labour who was in the driving seat but were feeble, flabby and fff… useless.

  9. Tafia says:

    And Trevor Fisher “Theresa May lulled the other parties into planning long term, and they were caught out by the loophole in the Act

    It’s not a loophole – it’s there specifically by design. It’s one of the two ways of bringing an early election about in Section Two of the Act. At least make an attempt at credibility.

  10. Ex labour says:

    You berate May for calling an election, yet just a few months ago Labour were berating her saying she had no mandate to rule .

    Flip, flop, flip, flop……so what exactly is your position ?

    You mention political opportunism….Jeremy Corbyn anyone ? Political opportunism of the highest order.

    The truth is labour has got it drastically wrong time and time again choosing leaders who are declining in calibre as each one is appointed. Brown gave way to Miliband who was worse, and in turn in rolled Corbyn who is dramatically worse. Its obvious any party is going to take advantage of that.

    The public are not stupid but unfortunately labour continue to believe they are.

  11. uglyfatbloke says:

    The SNP are n’t trying to make Scotland a 2-horse race between them and the Tories, it’s already a 2-horse race, that’s why Scottish Labour is supporting tory candidates.
    They will get Mundell and a few others elected and May will say that that’s a mandate to over-rule the Scottish parliament and Scottish Labour will be delighted.

  12. Carol says:

    Tafia – Labour and LibDems are in a weak position and everyone knows it. Much better tactic therefore to delay an election as long as possible. I doubt if a general would choose to go into battle knowing that most of his troops will be slaughtered.

  13. Mike says:

    The fixed term act should be abolished. May is doing what all previous PMs have and chosen when to go to the country. She is doing extremely well, if she gets 44% or more then she will be beating Blair and Thatcher – hardly the sign if a crap politician or leader. She has an instinct that is on time with middle England. She said Brexit is Brexit and it worked out – that wasn’t clever triangulation.

  14. Terry says:

    For another scathing view on this debacle, see


    “the announcement clearly got right inside Team Corbyn’s decision-loop. So all they could do was react with tremendous predictability and trot out their rehearsed line: “bring it on; we’re not afraid”, hotly followed by putting on a 3-line whip for the Parliamentary vote required to crystalise May’s intent. So now everything that follows is on May’s chosen battlefield

    “no-one in politics needs to be bounced into an instant reaction because (a) any politico worth their salt can play for time (being measured here only in hours, or a day at most); and (b) in a matter of hours you can convene your best brains, thrash out a serious response, and hurl it back into the fray. In this instance, they should at very least have blown up the narrow bridge across which May was forced to march, namely the requirement for a two-thirds majority. Even if she had a Plan B (and we may guess she did) you’ve already won yourself even more time: and if you can’t come up with a workable slogan to counter the inevitable chorus of “frit frit frit” you’ve no place in Team Corby HQ.

    “Instead, they remembered that the last time they discussed a snap election – several months ago, in the abstract, with nothing concrete in front of them – they concluded we’d better say OK. And that was what they had in the locker. “OK.” And not enough coolness under fire to sit down quietly and come up with their own plan in time for the 6 O’clock news. Something really unexpected, from out of left field(!) And we know May looks utterly out of her depth when that happens: so, an opportunity to score heavily. Instead, yet another in the line of prostrate Parliamentary performances, kowtowing to the Empress. “The real fight starts now” -?

  15. Tony says:

    Corbyn’s judgment is normally very sound.

    However, he has not got this right.

    ‘Mushroom Cloud’ May tells us she is a strong leader but she also tells us that she could not manage with the majority she had and so needed another election to ‘strengthen her hand’. Clearly, a deeply contradictory position.

    Corbyn should have exposed this and voted to block the general election. However, we are where we are and we all need to do the best we can.

    Comparisons have been made with 1983. However, it is worth bearing in mind that the depth of Labour’s defeat in that election was far from inevitable. And in this election, there is still much to play for. So get involved

    Thank you.

    P.S. One of the better articles to appear on this website.

  16. Tafia says:

    and May will say that that’s a mandate to over-rule the Scottish parliament,/I.
    holyrood is subordinate to Westminster – so it’s actually impossible to over-rule it. In addition, if you check the terms of devolution Westminster can overturn any of their decisions any time they want.

    Tafia – Labour and LibDems are in a weak position and everyone knows it. Much better tactic therefore to delay an election as long as possible.
    Being as both of them have spent the last 12 months repeatedly banging out that May didn’t have a mandate, they would have looked total tossers then stopping her from trying for one.

    The fixed term act should be abolished.
    Actually, what May did proves the Fixed Term Act works.

  17. I am pleased Tony thinks this is one of the better articles to appear on this website. The fundamental principle in politics as in war is to win and destroy the opponent. COrbyn had the chance to do so by refusing to vote for the election.

    Assuming that there was no back stairs deal that Labour would vote with the Tories, then May was gambling she could bounce Corbyn into the election – which she did. Had she failed to get the election as Labur could deny the required votes, she woiudl have had to resign, Thus Labour would have changed history, destroyed a Prime Minister and allowed a five year parliament to continue till 2020 and the election she promised, Never forget that she had said repeatedly there would be no election…. then cut and ran, And she not Corbyn is riding high in the polls as a result.

    Talk that the opposition parties would look foolish had they voted against is nonsense. Had MAy been denied the election and become a lame duck, no one would have noticed. The Tories fight to win The others don’t.

    George Kendall has usefully pointed to an interview in the Guardian. If you read the actual debate the SNP asked him time and again the question, so read his responses. they are in summary that there won’t be a hung parliament and so he does not have to answer. Realising later that as there will not be a hung parliament he can safely say that the Lib Dems will not go into coalition is a political device. The Lib Dems have never condemned their supporting the Tories for 5 years.

    As Carol and Terry have said, you do not accept gifts from the enemy (Trojan horse proved that) and you play for time. Whether the COrbyn team had discussed a snap election or not I do not know, but I do recall a report McDonnell had said it would be two years befoire Labour would be ready to fight an election. Very sound. Can anyone remember where he said it please?

    History will recall that this was Corbyn’s moment to disable May, as there are other reasons not to call an election other than allowing the police investigatgions into Tory election behavior to go ahead. They were stated clearly by May in repeatedly saying there would be none., If colleague can give chapted and verse then it would be very useful when the disaster of a Tory government happens to remind people why she said there would be no election. Till she cut and ran,.

    Yes the FTPA should be abolkished, now we have a situation where the aim of stopping a cut and run election – Clegg;s original rationale – has been blown out the water. In fact the situation is worse that before when (as with Heath in 1973-74) it was the claim he needed to go early to have a refreshed mandate the PM was held responsible for the decision. Now it is clear that the LIb Dems and Labour are supporting the Prime Minister, and while the claim that they would look weak to oppose May is false, there is no doubt that they will look even weaker – Labour in particular – if the polls are right and May crushes them.

    Going back to the principles of war and politics, it is a classic device to goad your opponent into a fight you know they will lose. Check Bismarck goading Napoleon III into the Franco Prussian war. Sometimes a commander has no choice with their backs to the wall. But as a historian, I cannot recall an occasion when refusing to fight and keeping the powder dry knowing the opponent would be severely damaged led to the decision to fight and allow the opponent to gain enormously

    which Is what Corbyn has done. As for the Lib Dems, their call for a referendum or general election on Britexit has been severely damaged. They could not stop the election, only Labour could do that,

    But to be consistent they had to refuse to vote for the election, FTPA being their legislation, and make a symbolic call for an election in 2020 as May had promised. If May wins they won’t get one will 2022 as the FTPA remains in being, and their call for a referendum will be laughed out of court.

    The Tories are playing politics consummately as Scotland shows. The two (English and Welsh) opposition parties are being outplayed both sides of the border. The SNP, a very smart party, did the sensible thing and abstained. If Labur had done so, May would be In deep trouble. Who else gained from approving her proposal?

    Trevor Fisher

  18. Carol says:

    Tafia. I can’t agree with you on this. Sure they would look like tossers but a bit of hurt pride is bearable if it avoids destruction. We have confrontational blood on the carpet politics in this country. It is win or lose. A general election is a battleground and if your troops are not fit to fighte best not take part.

  19. thanks again to George Kendall for pointing out the Farron comments in the Guardian, but its not simply that Farron has ruled out a coalition with the Tories – and Labour as well in actual fact – but what he says about working with anybody else after the General Election. His key quote is “There is no way we can countenance ANY KIND OF ARRANGEMENT, or coalition, with the Conservative Party and likewise with the Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn”.

    Ignoring for the moment the slight opening to a post LP if Corbyn leaves, this absolute prohibition on working with anyone is alas a signal that the Guardian comment on this being “designed to spike Tory claims that a vote for the Lib Dems could lead to a ‘coalition of chaos’ after the next election is fair, but leaves the way open to chaos. While no one expects there to be a hung election and so how the Lib Dems might line up is irrelevant at the moment, WHat Farron has done is to say they will not work with anyone. I have emphasized the key wording.

    What happens on June 8th is a General Election, and the major issue is who will form the next government. It won’t be Farron’s Lib Dems, and whatever happens he will sit on his hands. So there is really no point in voting for the Party. They have ruled themselves out of supporting a future government after June 8th and will again be a place for people to waste their vote.

    Farron has learnt one lesson, that coalition is a snare and the Lib Dems should not have gone into Coalition or Passed the Fixed Term Parliament Act, now proven not to stop Snap Elections as it was designed to do. However the second lesson from 2010, that they should have supported one of the major parties on a short term basis pending a second election has passed him by. The government of the country is the key issue to be decided on June 8th. He has now made it clear that the Lib Dems are not going to be part of making that decision, and a vote for the Lib Dems is pure self indulgence.

    Trevor FIsher

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