Lot of discussion around today about whether the Prime Minister might look to call a snap General Election. My constituent and near neighbour, Lord Hague has stirred this particular pot with his Telegraph column today suggesting she should. But Theresa May has said very clearly that she is not going to, and I don't see her changing her mind. She's not a leader who likes to change her mind. In any case, it's not so easy for her to 'go to the country'. We have in place the Fixed Term Parliament Act which stipulates that the next General Election will be held in early May 2020 unless either two thirds of MPs vote for one, or there is a vote of 'no confidence' in the Govt and a new govt cannot be formed in 14 days.
I was never in favour of a fixed term parliament - especially fixing elections at five years. For centuries, the British way was to allow the Prime Minister of the day to decide when to go to the country - usually every four years. Letting it go to five years usually delivers a worse result for the 'hanging on in hope' incumbent. The voters can see when a general election is needed, and if a Prime Minister is not in sync with the public mood, things backfire.
Bit of a hoo-hah down the corridor as their Lordships pass a couple of amendments to the bill authorising the invocation of Article 50. The actual purpose of course is that they are trying to reverse the entire referendum result, cloaking their tactics in reasonable sounding language. I've written quite a bit about these two issues on previous blog posts. Let's take the two successful amendments in turn. Firstly, there's the position of EU nationals in the UK concerned about being forced to leave. I've said often that there is not the slightest possibility of this actually happening. And must admit I would not be hugely upset if the amendment was not ping-pinged back. But there is another way of looking at this. And it's the Spanish dimension. Huge number of Brits in Spain, many of them there in retirement, creating a disproportionate cost on Spanish health service. That's how they see it. Generally speaking the Spanish in the UK are of working age. When discussion about the residency rights of EU citizens in other countries, maybe we shouldn't assume that the Spanish Govt will want to play ball. Follow the trail of that where you will. Lot of fuss about 'meaningful vote' as well. It's a fairly obvious tactic to ensure our current EU partners play hardball in negotiations. It's making the Prime Ministers job as she seeks an acceptable 'divorce settlement' more difficult. Let's cut the pretence about what this is about - not Parliamentary sovereignty but undermining a referendum vote.
Anyway, back to the likelihood of a general election. If the Prime Minister is not able to invoke Article 50 by end of March, maybe I'll have to write another blog post. But I don't expect that. I expect the Prime Minister to invoke Article 50 in the next week or two. That's when the really challenging discussions for the Govt begin. What we all know in today's politics, that even cast iron certainties can be overtaken in a few days. Best to hang onto your hats.