What is Jo Swinson playing at giving Boris Johnson his snap election?
Plans by the Liberal Democrats and SNP to bypass the Fixed-term Parliament Act are a disaster waiting to happen. But why can't Jo Swinson see that?
“WTF” is a fashionable but crude and distasteful little expression that is being used ever more routinely. I deplore it, but sometimes it cannot, I suppose, be avoided. Now is one such moment. So forgive me, but WTF does Jo Swinson think she is doing giving Boris Johnson his snap election?
The consequences of this decision will be grisly. It will likely mean that will have had Tory or Tory-led governments from 2010 to 2024, implementing austerity, neo-Thatcherism and taking the UK out of the EU. The Lib Dems will have played a disgracefully large part in facilitating it all.
I have heard enough of Swinson’s facile, naive, unworldly arguments about the timings of a December election – how no one can ever future proof anything about no deal Brexit, about how a Liberal Democrat government would sort everything out by revoking Article 50 as soon as Swinson arrived in Downing Street. It’s cobblers, of course. I thought Jeremy Corbyn was useless until Swinson started talking about a 9 December general election. Frankly, she makes Corbyn look like Tony Blair.
There is a reason why Johnson wants an election now. He’d rather do it after he’s “done Brexit”, on 12 December, of course, but he might well fancy Swinson’s plan for a bill to legalise a poll on 9 December. (By the way that ploy evades the Fixed-term Parliament Act 2011, one of the Lib Dems few abiding achievements from the Coalition, designed to prevent prime ministers manipulating the electoral cycle.)
This is plan B for Boris, then. But you can see why the SNP want an election now. It would be an excellent result for them, wiping out Labour and Tories, offer a solid mandate for “Independence in Europe”, and launch their campaign for a second referendum on breaking the link with England.
But the Lib Dems? On about 20 per cent in the polls they’ll make gains, certainly, but maybe not as many as they fantasise about. Their extreme and frankly undemocratic Revoke stance isn’t scooping the Remain vote and Swinson will be lucky to get more seats than Nick Clegg or Charles Kennedy. They’ll probably still be smaller than the SNP in the Commons and far smaller than Labour. Swinson won’t even have the status of third party in the Commons, let alone form an administration of her own.
Politics is about winning. Therefore you do not have an election when your enemy has the best chance of winning. It is as simple as that.
With a lead of more than 10 per cent over Labour in most polls, and with the Brexit Party becalmed, Boris Johnson might well now win a slim working majority in the Commons, even without the DUP. Or leastways there is a significant risk of that, and it is more probable than a Lab-Lib Dem deal to support a minority Corbyn Government. In case you’d not noticed, Swinson, Corbyn is not popular.
And what influence would the Lib Dems enjoy in such a Parliament? Next to none. If all goes according to the Johnson plan, or Plan B, he will have his own personal mandate for Brexit and much else, and he’ll be backed up a hard-right, Euro-phobic party purged of its moderate so-called One Nation elements. Rebels like Oliver Letwin, Amber Rudd and Philip Hammond all will be gone. There will be no Speaker Bercow to protect the rights of the Commons. Labour in defeat will be plunged into a vicious leadership struggle, as usual, enfeebled.
The Tories will be in the ascendant, free to undo what flimsy promises they've made to gullible Labour MPs about workers’ rights. They will be free to put no deal on the table for future EU talks, and free to implement it as well. They can scrap whatever remains of the welfare state, cut taxes, cut services, suppress the franchise and build a harsher society. As I say: WTF are you playing at, Swinson?