Could Jeremy Corbyn be Prime Minister by the year end?

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There is a reason the bookies now put Jeremy Corbyn as favourite to be next Prime Minister (7:2 from Ladbroke’s).

It is certainly starting to feel we are now on tramlines heading towards a General Election.

Don’t be fooled by the fact that under Conservative Party internal rules she has 12 month’s grace from the last challenge against her in December.

The Prime Minister faces weekly hurdles to staying in office. Indeed, it is pretty remarkable she is there at all given that even with the Democratic Unionist Party in tow she only has a Parliamentary majority of five. We also know what constitutional and party rules will apply if a Conservative leadership election takes place.

To remind you, the known hurdles are:

Date Event Significance

May 14th

Expected Withdrawal Agreement Bill vote

Unlikely to pass without Labour support

May 23rd

European Parliament elections

Conservatives are only on 13% in the polls

May 23rd – 4th June

Whitsun Recess
 
June 3rd Trump state visit
Plenty of opportunity for
mischief

June 6th

Peterborough by-election

A strong showing from the Brexitparty candidate is expected

June 15th

EGM of Conservative National Convention

No legal force but possibility for embarrassment

 

It is conceivable that either after Parliament passes the Withdrawal Bill with Labour support (possible but not likely) OR after heavy defeats in both the European elections and the Peterborough by-election Theresa May finally decides the game is up. The Cabinet and the 1922 Committee of backbenchers could belatedly urge her to step down.

Who or what is an “interim Prime Minister”?

This will be the first gift to Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party.

The position of interim Prime Minister does not exist in law. Who should be Prime Minister while a new Conservative leader is chosen? Only the Queen can appoint the Prime Minister and she must choose whoever can command a majority in the House of Commons. How will the Conservative Party and, say, the Cabinet prove that its choice can command a majority while the outcome of the Conservative leadership process is unknown?

The best solution would be for Mrs May herself to stay on as “interim” Prime Minister, having indicated her intention to resign later, after a leadership election has been concluded. But suppose she does not agree to this? And suppose that the Opposition Parties, not unreasonably, don’t support her staying in office while the Conservative Party conducts a prolonged leadership poll? They would be entirely justified in calling a vote of confidence.

Avoiding a Vote of Confidence

The House of Commons has to be sitting for there to be a Vote of Confidence. As the Government controls the Order Paper, there are various ruses it can use to avoid Parliament sitting. It can, for instance, simply say there is no business or Prorogue Parliament or put it into Recess. This is easier than it appears because there is virtually no legislation in the pipeline and the current session of Parliament – delineated by a Queen’s Speech – has already been extended.

However, one cannot help feeling that these are just the sort of antics which the Stuart Kings resorted to in order to avoid Parliament sitting- and look what happened to them.

The Conservative leadership rules

These are the second gift to Jeremy Corbyn.

The Parliamentary element of the leadership process is run by the 1922 Committee. Previously, it has allowed a week for candidates to come forward and held votes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. At each round, the weakest drops out until there are just two left. They then supposedly hold hustings up and down the country and the 150,000 odd party members vote a few weeks later.

Presumably, there is an opportunity to speed things up a bit. But even if common sense and speedy and efficient systems prevail, it is doubtful the process could be truncated to less than 4-6 weeks.

Furthermore, holding such a process in August would plainly be problematic.

A General Election

A Labour vote of confidence as soon as the leadership contest concludes, if not before, must surely be a certainty. Can we be sure that any one of the dozen or so leadership candidates would win such a vote? If, say, Boris Johnson won, several MPs are on record as saying they would leave the party and refuse to serve. Mr Corbyn would be able to make some good points about the spectacle and legitimacy of the whole process.

The deadline for the current extension to Article 50 expires on 31st October. That will be looming into view by the end of the summer holidays and dominating the political discussion by then. Surely nobody is going to be wanting to hold an election immediately before it or during it?

The only realistic window for an election is September. If, and it is a big if, the Conservative party does decide to change leader, commencing in June, the precariousness of the Parliamentary arithmetic and the inevitable hue and cry about the requirement for a fresh mandate means that must be the way to bet.

Who would win? I don’t know, but a simplistic reading of the current polls, plugged into the Electoral Calculus model, forecasts a potentially unstable Labour/SNP coalition with a majority of around 15. As for Brexit, would it be implemented at all by such a Government?

Conclusion

Put together the complexities of changing Prime Minister, and you can see it is hard to do so without running the risk of the whole process blowing up spectacularly. Inertia therefore remains Mrs May’s most powerful friend. Against that, whichever way you look at it, she has a majority of five and the clouds of defeat swirling around her could well erupt into a storm soon after the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Landings.

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