Taking Back Control – From whom and to what end?

Dr Laura Cashman

Last week I attended a play at the Marlowe Theatre billed as a “post-Brexit satire about what it’s like to be treated as a foreigner in your own land”.

Octopus may have been a dystopian fantasy when writer and producer Asfaneh Grey conceived the play but a year after the EU Referendum, it feels far too close to reality for comfort. The sharpness of the script and the talent of the actresses evoked the dark humour, fear and sadness which permeate the discussions I’ve been having with EU migrants and British citizens, who worry about what our post-Brexit future has in store for us all.

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Early General Election – Don’t Bet on It

Theresa-May

Dr Mark Bennister, Reader in Politics, explores the possibility of an early general election being called by the new prime minister

With British political change at present hurtling along at breakneck speed, it is reasonable to expect the unexpected. Since Theresa May became the new prime minister, speculation has increased that an early general election will be called. The reasons seem to concentrate on her criticism of Gordon Brown in 2007 as ‘running scared’ for not calling one after similarly being anointed as an unopposed party leader and prime minister. Commentators have led the calls based on her apparent need for a mandate from the electorate. This chatter has ratcheted up a notch as several opposition parties joined the chorus. There are several reasons why an early election is highly unlikely. Some of these are procedural and some political.

  1. The Fixed Term Parliament Act (FTPA), passed in 2011 sets the date of the next election as May 2020. This has taken the decision away from the prerogative powers of the prime minister and placed authority with parliament. As the UCL Constitution Unit stress, no longer is the timing of a general election in the gift of the prime minister.
  2. The FTPA stipulates the way in which a government can fall, thereby triggering an election. Either a government would need to be defeated on a motion of no-confidence or support for a dissolution of parliament would need to be demonstrated. In the first case a 14 day period is required to see if an alternative government can be formed. In the second case 60 percent of the House must support dissolution.
  3. Alternatively the FTPA could be repealed, though it is uncertain if the powers would automatically return to the prime minister. Another option, as Robert Hazell points out would be to amend the Act to specify a new date – this would require only a simple majority in the Commons and support from the Lords.
  4. The politics though make all these options highly unlikely. To use the FTPA the government would have to either engineer a no-confidence vote, and hope that everyone falls into line, or enlist the opposition parties to gain the 60 per cent necessary for a dissolution. Neither option would look particularly good and carries significant risks. With such a small current majority it would not be guaranteed that all Conservatives would support the move and why would the opposition support an election called by the government?
  5. Repealing or revising the FTPA would be more straightforward, but why bother? We elect governments not prime ministers and although Theresa May has a new team there is no requirement or imperative to call an election. After all staging the referendum was a manifesto commitment and prime ministers do frequently change in mid-term. In fact this has happened 12 times since Lloyd George. Of the post war prime ministers only Anthony Eden chose to call an election immediately after assuming office in 1955 and although he increased Conservative majority his premiership proved a disaster as the Suez crisis forced his resignation in 1957.

The structural obstacles therefore appear to mitigate against any early election. But the politics do too. With such a large in tray, the new prime minister will have enough things to sort out in the short term. Stability and a sense of control after such a turbulent period is the imperative. Although it is tempting to think the new prime minister will try and cash in on the current Labour Party disarray, why risk going to the country? A further option may be to engineer one further down the line when Brexit negotiations are concluded but again why risk it? Having swiftly changed the guard at the top such calls are likely to be resisted, particularly with the complex procedural logistics and uncertain outcome. But we are learning to expect the unexpected in British politics.

Why is real leadership in such short supply in UK politics?

In the aftermath of the referendum, the UK seems to be suffering from individual and collective leadership failure, write Mark Bennister and Ben Worthy. The use of fear tactics instead of thought-through strategies and of quick fixes instead of long-term visions are some of the reasons behind this failure.

Long-serving leadership is in short supply in the UK. The longest-serving party leader is now Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood, followed closely by the Green Party’s Natalie Bennett (who will be stepping down) and the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon. With this short supply, we also now have a succession of political leaders avoiding responsibility: Cameron, Osborne, Johnson, Farage, and Corbyn. Leaders were complacent, with exaggerated beliefs in their electoral powers, in their political capital and in the machines they thought they led. But what exactly is it they failed to do?

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Brexit and the pyrrhic victory of the ‘ordinary people’

By Dr Licia Cianetti, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations

Among the many articles and headlines I went through today to try and make peace with what just happened, one jumped out with particular strength: in explaining what went wrong with their prediction of a Remain victory, YouGov titled “Unexpected high turnout in Leave areas pushed the campaign to victory”. It has been noted already many times that yesterday’s referendum shows a picture of a country that is deeply divided along age, class and educational lines, with the “losers” of globalisation on one side and the “winners” on the other. While troubling, this is not very surprising for anyone who has been following British – or indeed European – politics in the past few years. And this is not what was caught my eye in the YouGov’s headline. Continue reading “Brexit and the pyrrhic victory of the ‘ordinary people’”

Questioning the Prime Minister: How Effective is the Liaison Committee?

On 7 July, at the Institute for Government in London, Dr Alexandra Kelso (University of Southampton) and Dr Mark Bennister (Canterbury Christ Church University) will present the findings of their new research on the Liaison Committee and its role in guaranteeing prime ministerial accountability. While most public attention is focused on Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQ), Liaison Committee sessions with the PM have remained mostly under the radar. These sessions have operated since 2002, questioning three successive Prime Ministers. Kelso and Bennister’s research focuses on the process of significant institutional learning the Committee has undergone over the course of these sessions. The research is funded by the Nuffield Foundation and supported by Canterbury Christ Church University and the University of Southampton.

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