Labour could still back an early election – and try to get the Tories out

Sienna Rodgers
Jeremy Corbyn conference 2018
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Labour candidates and activists are raring to go – but sitting Labour MPs just don’t fancy their chances. That is what the ongoing debate over an early general election comes down to. Last night, Boris Johnson’s third attempt to secure Commons approval for a snap poll failed as Labour MPs were whipped to abstain. 38 voted against, just to really make sure everyone knows they don’t want a December election. The Prime Minister is now planning his fourth go, and will today put forward a bill again proposing a December 12th date.

You may be wondering why MPs would vote for this bill and not the motion yesterday. The answer is that the latest offer is different: the Prime Minister has promised not to press on with the Brexit bill – a key demand of the Lib Dems and SNP. Apart from the fact that they are set to do quite well, the smaller opposition parties are now backing a December election precisely because it looks like the only way of resolving Brexit before January 31st, with this set of MPs, is passing Johnson’s deal. And they want to avoid that. Unlike many Labour MPs, they have accepted that the numbers for a fresh referendum just aren’t there.

Labour’s position, as articulated by Barry Gardiner this morning, is that the new Brexit deal is not acceptable but the government should continue the passage of the bill. The shadow cabinet member also told Radio 4: “I don’t think that the public see this election as top of their Christmas list.” Which is basically saying the country isn’t ready to kick the Tories out. Not exactly the sort of messaging you would expect from the main opposition party.

The current disagreement is over the precise date, with the Lib Dems and SNP backing the 9th – a little earlier so that Brexit definitely can’t go ahead – and Downing Street wanting the 12th. But it appears that the government stance is shifting, and they will accept an amendment for a compromise December 11th date. These shenanigans look absolutely ridiculous, but what would look even more ridiculous is if Labour stayed opposed to an election taking place with or without its support.

Jeremy Corbyn could still remotivate activists and back an election, even if a sizeable number of Labour MPs do rebel and vote against the proposal. It depends on further wrangling, whether an amendment is selected and gets anywhere, and just how much pressure is exerted on the leadership from those who want to avoid risk compared to those who think it is time to try to #GTTO. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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