Labour will vote for an early election – but not yet

Jeremy Corbyn conference 2018
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Boris Johnson has lost his working majority and lost control of the Commons. His very first parliamentary vote as Prime Minister saw the government lose by 27 votes thanks to a tiny Labour rebellion (consisting of just Kate Hoey and John Mann), along with 21 Tory rebels – a sizeable number despite the threat of harsh consequences. During Johnson’s speech earlier in the day, Philip Lee crossed the floor and joined the Lib Dems. Later, the whip was withdrawn from all Tory rebels including Philip Hammond, who was Chancellor less than two months ago. Johnson started the day with a majority of one and ended it with -43 (and that includes the DUP). He now leads a minority government that does not control the order paper in the Commons today.

It’s been a very good 24 hours for Labour. For most of Tuesday, confusion reigned as MPs didn’t know whether they were going to be whipped for or against an early general election called for by the Prime Minister. It appeared that the leadership was cooking up a scheme by which it would be able to vote for one without falling into Johnson’s “trap”. Ultimately, the plan announced last night – after the PM confirmed that he was tabling a motion under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act – seems more simple than anticipated: Labour will support a motion for an early election as soon as the Benn Bill becomes law, which Labour expects to be by Friday night. Therefore, if the FTPA motion is heard tonight as expected, Jeremy Corbyn’s MPs will be told to vote against a snap poll – because Hilary Benn’s anti-no deal legislation must go through the Lords first.

By working with other opposition parties and keeping the size of a potential Labour rebellion against an early election low, Corbyn is using this opportunity to appear statesmanlike. The Lib Dems are in full support of Labour’s strategy right now and can’t criticise the opposition leader, which suggests the 2017 electoral coalition is back baby. It’s good again. Awoouu (wolf Howl). Whether the party is truly as united as it seems will become apparent very soon, however. MPs have told LabourList they had been given the impression by the Chief Whip at the PLP meeting yesterday that Labour wouldn’t be voting for an election this side of prorogation. Some don’t trust Johnson to abide by the Benn Bill and would prefer to wait until the Article 50 extension has actually been requested. This process could become trickier for the leadership, though it has walked the tightrope skilfully so far and could continue to do so.

We’ve got a busy day in parliament. Our first Johnson vs Corbyn PMQs at noon will be followed by Sajid Javid’s one-year spending round, confirming reports that this government has indeed found the magic money tree. At 3pm, anti-no deal MPs will seize control and debate the Benn Bill. The vote at 5pm is likely to return the same sort of majority we saw last night, as (ex-Tory) rebels show no sign of backing down. The Commons will debate amendments to the bill next, including – if selected by the Speaker – those backed by 17 Labour Leave seat MPs who want a return to the good old days, when Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill was on the table. Votes at around 7pm, before the third reading. Finally, we expect to end the day with a vote on an election, which would see Johnson suffer a heavy defeat again. If all goes to plan, our attentions will turn to the Lords where a big fight is set to take place. Keep following LabourList for every twist and turn with a Labour focus. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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