Everybody seems to be ignoring the Fixed Term Parliament Act
In the latest PB polling matters podcast we hear that polling has been going on asking the public what they think of the idea of having an early General Election. The responses are interesting but they ignore one pertinent fact:
The prime minister, unlike all those before Cameron, does not have the personal power to go to the monarch and seek the dissolution of Parliament. The Fixed Term Parliament Act has changed that.
This legislation came about as part of the 2010 coalition deal between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. It was pressed for by the yellow team because they didn’t want to get into a situation where the Tories could just govern for a year or so and then go straight to the country when circumstances appeared most right ditching them.
The Act remains in force and will do so until such time as it is repealed. But that process of itself might not necessarily return the discretion to the prime minister. In any case a repeal act would have to go to both houses of parliament and it is highly possible that the measure could run into trouble in House of Lords which could delay it.
There are two provisions in the act for early elections and both present enormous hurdles. Firstly there can be one if two-thirds of the entire House of Commons votes for one. The proportion is based on the total legal number of MPs and would including vacancies, abstentions and, of course, the Sinn Fein representatives who do not take their seats.
In the current Parliament 434 MPs would have to back the measure. That would mean getting Labour agreement so the choice would be in Mr. Corbyn’s hands.
The the other way a snap election can be held is if there is a vote of no confidence in the government which is not rescinded within 2 weeks.
So the Tories could have a contrived vote of no confidence in themselves which if passed would mean Mrs May would have to go to the palace and tell the Queen that the Commons had no longer any confidence in her government and she would have to resign.
In this case the sovereign would probably call the alternative Prime Minister in waiting, the leader of the opposition, to see if he could form a government.
Clearly that would be very difficult but there is just a possibility that Mr Corbyn could become Prime Minister for a very short period even if he lost a confidence vote himself a few days later.
A reason why Labour MPs might not back a Commons motion calling for an early election is that it is so much better for them if they force the government to go through the vote of confidence process.
No doubt Mrs May has taken her own legal advice on this issue. One of the reasons why she has steadfastly ruled out an early election is that she knows the difficulty.
If you don’t mind locking money up for three years bet on a 2020 general election.