Political power is about one thing: sustainability. Once the ‘honeymoon period’ has worn off for any new government, as it certainly has for Theresa May’s, the question of how long the government will survive grows louder every day. This need not be terminal. Mid-term unpopularity is no guide to electoral defeat – just ask Ed Miliband. But in the case of the current government, survival is not an abstract notion – it’s the only idea it has.
Yet the belief is growing in some quarters that the Tories will call an early election, perhaps later this year. The arguments against doing this are obvious. We’ve already had an election this year. The Tories are consistently behind in the polls. The Brexit negotiations are well underway. Theresa May’s authority – or what little is left of it – hangs by a thread. They would need to replace her before an election. But how? And when?
Nevertheless Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn continues to tour the country and, in particular, marginal seats. Corbyn sincerely believes there will be another election in short order and that Labour can win it. He believes this because he understands the point about sustainability, and has calculated that the current political situation is unsustainable.
I have long since given up making political predictions. It is still possible to assert, however, that the Tories would be utter fools to call an early election. And if there’s one thing history has shown us about the Tories, it is that they’re not foolish about giving up power. Moreover, to call an early election before the Brexit negotiations are concluded could fatally weaken the UK’s negotiating hand – and I don’t think even the Tories are consciously planning on doing that.
But suppose that I am wrong and the Tories suddenly decide to ruthlessly dispatch Theresa May, replacing her with one of the candidates profiled by Labour Vision last month. The Tories would not have the element of surprise because they would have telegraphed the election being called by changing their leader, and Corbyn and Labour are anticipating such an eventuality anyway.
So, could they win again? It is difficult to see how they would increase their number of seats at this point. What exactly would they be offering? The same, muddled approach to Brexit, but with a fresher face delivering it? A reversion to George Osborne’s vapid brand of ‘liberal Conservatism’? A figure from the Tory right pushing the hardest of hard Brexits?
I’m afraid these potentially huge pitfalls all lead me back to my original conclusion: the Tories just won’t do it. Why give Labour another chance to govern when Corbyn is surpassing all expectations? Surely it would be far better to deliver Brexit, ride out the remaining three years of the term, and get a new leader in place? If the Tories haven’t magically lost their inherent understanding of how to retain power, then this will be their plan.
So, Labour would perhaps be better off focusing on two things over and above being on a permanent election footing: vision and policies. While this year’s manifesto contained many brilliant policies, it was defined very much in anti-austerity terms. Greater work is therefore needed to define what Labour is for, and how it will pay for it.
There’s no rush. It can be done properly and thoroughly. After all, the next general election is probably years away…