Premature electioneering has once again afflicted a Conservative Prime Minister. Following on from David Cameron’s rush to the polls for his ill-fated EU referendum, Theresa May’s early election decision has back-fired on a colossal scale. Far from returning to power with a predicted landslide, a political tsunami has swept aside Mrs May’s majority in the House of Commons leaving her to lead a minority government with the assistance of the Democratic Unionist Party.
Speculation has been rife that the effect of the election will be to soften Brexit. Yet, speaking in Downing Street following her visit to Buckingham Palace, the Prime Minister seems intent on sticking to her original Brexit plan.
As for the timetable for Brexit, the clock is still ticking and the endpoint of the negotiations remains fixed even if the start date might change. Nothing in the election changes the timeframe for Brexit. At least for now.
Rather Mrs May’s political problems are domestic. The Prime Minister’s first headache will be to get the Queen’s Speech programme of legislation – much of which will be about delivering Brexit at a national level – through the House of Commons. Were she to lose a vote on the Queen’s Speech, tradition would suggest that her government would fall. However, the Fixed-term Parliament’s Act remains on the statute book and a defeat on such a vote would not itself trigger a general election. For an early election to occur we would have to go through the same process by which Mrs May embarked on her misguided 8 June election.
Before that happened, the Labour leader might be asked to form a government. Yet it is not obvious that a Labour Prime Minister would be in any better position to get a Queen’s Speech programme of legislation through the Commons.
Moreover, some might wonder whether the formation of a minority Labour government would really be in Labour’s interest. On the one hand, it may wish to capitalise on the party’s electoral successes and new-found popularity. On the other hand, the Labour leadership might rather that it was a Conservative Party that was forced to pick up the pieces of the 23 June referendum and carry through with Brexit. Rather than suffering from the same electoral dysfunction as the Conservatives, Labour figures might feel that it would be better to bide their time and wait for the Conservative Party to implode.
Meanwhile, standing in the wings like an anxious contestant on Tipping Point, Boris Johnson might also see the virtues of waiting for the right political counter to drop and push Theresa May out of office. For his supporters, it may be about time for Boris Johnson to take over his party’s leadership. For Johnson himself, it’s about timing.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man.