Interview with Prof Rob Ford on the Ins and Outs of the UK’s #GE17

I spoke to Rob Ford, Professor of Political Science at the University of Manchester, about the upcoming Westminster election this afternoon.  I asked him how the government could get around the terms of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act:

There are two likely options. The first and, given the statement of Jeremy Corbyn already, the more likely is, that a vote will be called in the Commons which would require a 2/3 majority to call an election.

If MPs don’t back that option, and this will be familiar to watchers of German politics, then essentially the Tories will call a motion of no confidence in their own government, and if not reversed within two weeks an election has to be called.

Some people who watch politics very closely all the time imagine that that would create an impossible problem, but in effect the first few weeks of the campaign would wipe it out in the minds of most voters.

This has happened several times in Germany, when Schoeder called an early election in 2005 (Brandt and Kohl did something similar) undermining a Constitution deliberately designed to create post war stability in Germany.

As I think we said at the time it came in, if there’s a political will to get around the Fixed Term Act people will find it.

What effect do you think Purdah will have on Brexit negotiations?

Well, I’m not an expert on Whitehall, but the short answer is that Purdah is a convention rather than a hard legal regulation. But given the expectations around Brexit, I think the government will have to make some kind of announcement on what it will mean.

But in truth, the French are already involved in a controversial election right now, and the German are heading for an election which is far more uncertain than it looked a year ago. Much of the heavy work will only start in the Autumn.

There is of course a huge workload to be got through in a short time, so it will be interesting to hear what they have to say on that matter.

What sort of broad landscape changes are we likely to see afterwards?

Well, given the trend in the polling since both Theresa May took over job and Jeremy Corbyn took over his, we’re likely to see the first dominant Tory majority since 1987 -1992 administration.

By which I mean one in which the government can afford to ignore their own backbenchers. England will be the bluest it has ever been since 1992. The Lib Dems will recover a great deal of ground, being the only party to have a clear anti Brexit position.

Brexit is now more than Brexit, it represents a value divide in the wider population. The LDs should, like Ruth Davidson in Scotland, benefit from the fact that Labour has refused to take a position that the public can understand.

As Ruth Davidson has pitched the Tories as “we are the party of the Union” the Lib Dems are the party of Europe and of openness.

And what will it mean for the Labour party if it goes as low as say, 150 seats?

Hard to tell. Northing I predicted in 2014 has happened as I expected. But it is becoming clear that it is possible for a Social Democratic part to die out. This is what’s happened to Pasok, and the Dutch Labour party, and I don’t see why it couldn’t happen in Britain.

On the other hand as we have seen with Macron, Renzi and Schultz it is possible for a new leader with no direct connection with the big centrist project of the past (for Blair, read Schroeder) to do well.

It’s really a question of who emerges afterwards, and how the party membership interprets any set back. They’re not known for their political pragmatism. If it’s as low as you suggests, I’m not sure they would continue to back Jeremy.

Why do you think May reneged on her previous statements saying that she wasn’t going to call an early election?

It would free her up from following someone else’s manifesto.  A lot of people don’t understand why politicians care so much for a piece of paper that no one else reads,  but it would give her a freedom to act as she sees fit.

A safe majoirty also means that she can ignore IDS and those backbenchers who are constantly trying to legislate what she can and cannot do in her negotiations with the EU.

Follow Rob:

  • Brendan Heading

    The first part is academic at this point. Labour already indicated they would back a renewed election, and Corbyn renewed that commitment following this morning’s announcement. The Tories plus Labour together at 559 seats easily exceeds the two-thirds threshold even if there are a handful of rebellious backbenchers.

    I cannot see May losing this election and she wouldn’t have called it if she believed that she would. But I’m not sure that she always planned to do this. I think, a couple of weeks after triggering Article 50, she and her cabinet have realised what a difficult job this is. To achieve brexit they are going to have to push through some extremely tough and painful decisions. They want to be able to say that they gave advance notice of this.

    After this election is over it will no longer be possible for anyone to say that they didn’t know what was going to happen. It will draw a line under a very difficult debate and offer political clarity. It will also afford clarity with respect to the status of Northern Ireland; if the UK government receives a clear mandate to pursue a hard brexit, Northern Ireland’s politicans will have a much clearer picture of what the task they’re facing will look like.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    From the point of view of Labour recovery post-Corbyn, this saves us 3 years.

    What will be interesting will be how May plays things with the Brexiteers after what will be a sweeping victory. Her position will be unassailable and we’ll get to see what May really wants. If she wants to tell the swivel-eyed Brexiteers to f*** off, she can. It could be really positive. Here’s hoping. I had previously thought that would be her strategy; I’ve been put off that in recent months; but maybe I was right initially. Could we get a softer Brexit now?

  • Barneyt

    Have you any insight to the brexit/remain split within the Tory electorate? I know many working class traditional labourites would have voted out but the general feel I detect is that those to the rule Britannia right, favoured brexit. By this token a sizeable blue majority at the expense of labour is on the cards. However, how many will protest against the goverment that has assumed a brexit hard line? I can’t help feeling that the lib dems will mop up more than people think and we have yet to see how Corbyn party electoral success sits with the wider labour or new found labour support. Labour will be damaged but my feeling is that the torys will need help to form a majority and some factors will limit the otherwise hiding labour could expect. The “on the day” or “better the devil you know” factors kicked in with #GE2014. I think the “give the hard brexiteers a slap, especially that numpty trumpite clown we have for FS” factor might kick in.

  • Nevin

    Oliver Ilott, Institute for Government, on the implications for domestic implementation et al.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    With the Tories, who will win a lot of seats from Labour, what will be important will be which side of the party the new batch of MPs are on. I don’t have knowledge of that but my guess is the average newer Tory MP is more centrist than the old guard – as they have come through the party to candidate level under Cameron and mainly buy into that modernised version of the Tory party. It’s not as simple as that, but broadly I would expect May to be hugely strengthened within the Tory party by the election. And my instinct on her is that she sees herself as something of a One Nation Tory, though more to the right. She is not a right wing ideologue or zealot and sees herself as steady, considered. So, my gut feel is that given the power, she’ll quietly sideline the right wingers and when they kick up a stink, she’ll just refer to her huge mandate and play the grown-up, governing for the whole country etc.

    I could be wrong – I hope not. But we’ll soon see where she really sits.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    May is a ‘swivel-eyed Brexiteer’ herself, as she has conclusively shown in the last couple of months. Either that or she is so afraid of them that she is unable to stand against them. It makes little difference either way, and an election will change nothing about her stance.

  • Skibo

    If Jeremy comes out with a policy of a soft landing for Brexit, he could save face and actually increase his representation. Theresa May is going to have to nail her colours to the mast as to what type of a Brexit she is aiming for. No more of Brexit is Brexit.
    Not exactly what she wanted. She always gave the impression of wanting to play her cards close and not divulge too much before negotiations.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Good news for the SNP. They can put forward a program of either a second referendum or a declaration of independence. The last Tory MP will very probably go, after the recent ‘benefits for rape’ fiasco, the last Labour MP will very probably go too, after the brutal drubbing that Labour will undergo at the Local elections, and the last Lib-Dem will be on a shoogly peg. All in all the elections will give the SNP an un-assailable position to take Scotland out of the UK. After that, NI will surely follow.

  • Obelisk

    The council elections and the Westminster election will be fought in Scotland as a referendum on Nicola’s mandate (which should not have been doubted) to hold an independence referendum. I am wishing you well Bonaparte and hope for the best outcome for you and your country.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Yep. You too. If the worst comes to the worst and a border poll fails, maybe an independent Scotland and Ireland could take over joint responsibility for NI as an interim stage. !!!!! Then you would certainly get a Gaelic language act!

  • Timothyhound

    May isn’t the most likeable but she isn’t stupid. The Conservatives are the party of business and May knows that a hard Brexit will be a disaster. She has reflected on the impossible challenge ahead and is looking to soften the exit – she can only do this with a renewed mandate. Despite her protestations that the union is dear to her heart she has decided that Scotland is probably lost and NI is of zero consequence. It’s all about England.

  • Obelisk

    You think a little thing like being slaughtered in a general election will stop Corbyn? It wouldn’t surprise me if his way of dealing with the impending defeat is to resign, trigger a leadership contest, stand, get re-elected and go on for the next five years bleating about his mandate.

    And slaughtered you will be. Your party is dead in Scotland, the SNP has successfully reshaped politics there into the zero sum Unionist-Nationalist axis you are familiar with from home. Everyone is predicting Labour’s annihilation at council level in May, and then another GE trouncing in June. Any gains from the SNP will likely be done by the Tories.

    And in England EVERYONE is circling Labour’s carcass. Even UKIP, the party without a point, is eyeing Labour up to see what they can take. In the end you’ll probably be left with a hard core in the cities and Wales.

    You’ve many dark years ahead of you if you are a Labour supporter, or if you are in any way opposed to Tories set on being in office forever.

    And there is the SNP, gleefully beckoning the left leaning Scots to the exit from the right wing nightmare consuming Britain. At what point will they go through? Sooner than you hope I wager.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I agree it looks grim. The membership’s mistaken affair with Corbyn is costing us dear. Labour really is screwed until the members catch themselves on, or leave.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    She may be standing against them now. Let’s see.

  • Obelisk

    ‘Labour really is screwed until the members catch themselves on, or leave.’

    Which precludes the far likelier third option, you and everyone else opposed to Corbyn will be driven out by increasingly insane ideologues whose ideal day is protesting a change without making the grubby compromises needed to win the power necessary to change people’s lives for the better.

    It might lead to a harmonious Westminster, the Tories in charge and Labour outside with a megaphone fruitlessly shouting about it. Everyone would be happy.

  • Obelisk

    You do realise you’ve essentially just declared Theresa May is our only hope right?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Well I’m out already because of Corbyn’s SF links, I just couldn’t be in a party led by an IRA apologist. But I’m not a Labour diehard. Most long term Labour people haven’t left and won’t leave.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    First part spot on; but wide of the mark on her unionism. I think she’s far from given up on Scotland.

  • Obelisk

    Aye they need some place to stash the nuclear weapons. Can you imagine if they had to move them to England?

    Good god man there could be an accident!

  • file

    And so this election will be with the existing parliamentary constituencies because – yet again – they did not get around to implementing the changes in time? So 18 seats for us chubes over here, is that right?

  • lizmcneill

    heaven help us all, we’re doomed.

  • Starviking

    The problem is not accidents with warheads, it’s with easy and secure access to deep water. That was achived by basing the submarine deterrent in Scotland.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Hadn’t you realised that yet?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    You may be the only person predicting that Labour will gain seats. Sorry, I can’t see it.

  • > I think she’s far from given up on Scotland.

    I note the full stop after Scotland, nice to see you coming to terms with the inevitable MU.

  • Skibo

    MU if all Labour supporters are like you, they will not. How can you support a party and then hope for their demise?
    Are you a supporter of Socialism at all or just a soft tory?

  • Skibo

    So is Labour returning to their roots of supporting the working man and not big business?

  • Obelisk

    No I long ago gave up the ghost and accepted our doom. The idea of Theresa May being a closet moderate made me laugh though.

  • Skibo

    Do you think she will officially declare what she stands for Brexit wise and allow the people to either accept it or reject it?
    This election should be all about who should represent the UK in negotiations.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    she did support Remain

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It shouldn’t be either / or. We need fairness and redistribution of wealth but we also need wealth to be generated by successful businesses.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’m not supporting Labour in this election on a matter of conscience over Corbyn’s ambivalence towards the IRA terror in Northern Ireland. I’m a social democrat, I don’t call myself a socialist. And certainly not a Tory.

  • MainlandUlsterman


    Oh I see. No, I just thought there wasn’t much to say on the NI point, there is no real prospect of NI leaving the UK.

  • But how long will England humor NI, especially if Scotland leaves?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    As long as NI wants to stay in UK, probably. Different if Wales goes.

  • Skibo

    I know it is a personal decision but who do you see yourself supporting?
    If Corbyn does turn it round, will you then accept him as leader or are your Labour roots bound in Blairism?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I wouldn’t call it Blairism, as I say I’m a social democrat but not a socialist (that is I’m into a good degree of state intervention but on the basis of a market-based economic system; I’m not into nationalising industries or anything like that, on the basis it doesn’t seem to work economically).

    I’ve always been a Lib Dem / Labour swing voter, but one more on the Labour side and then eventually actually joining Labour; but that was pre-Corbyn. I have really not much time for Corbyn’s brand of Labour, to me it seems kind of adolescent.

    Corbyn won’t turn it around but if he did become PM I would campaign to get him out as soon as possible. I would never accept that man as leader of anything I have anything to do with.

  • Skibo

    Because of his socialist views or his support of SF?
    If you are not socialist but agree with state intervention, where do you want the state to intervene? Possibly to use Tax payers money to subsidise industry and put more money into the upper class pockets?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    His support of SF – including supporting them during the slaughter – is unforgivable. The fact he’s an incoherent idiot more generally is hardly surprising, but his socialism is the least of it really. At least socialists generally mean well and I have no problem with them having their views as long as they don’t try and run the country that way. We can do without British Leyland in 2017.

    On state intervention generally, like most social democrats I am for a bigger redisribution of wealth, including high taxes on high incomes and much higher taxes on unearned wealth. And personally I would tax private schools virtually out of existence.

    On subsidising industry, yes there are all sorts of ways we can help UK companies grow and thrive and it’s a question of investing smartly to encourage growth but not prop up the failing ones; while also making sure workers at businesses that fail have a safety net and other opportunities to move onto.

    Really I don’t have very controversial views. Just want business to thrive alongside social justice and fairness. But I do also believe in things like having an army, keeping a nuclear deterrent, taking robust action against terror groups and so on – where I think Mr Corbyn may be in a different place.

  • Skibo

    MU you show your inadequacy to see anything but anti SF. That will always be the problem here in the North till the younger generations come through into the electorate with no personal feelings from the troubles and see SF working for their electorate.
    You say you do not have controversial views yet want to hold onto a Nuclear deterrent, the cost of which is substantial.
    The problem with taking sides against terror groups is you have to take sides. In Iraq and Libya and Afghanistan the allies fought against the registered ruler of the country and supported dissident groups.
    In Syria, just who’s side are the allies on?
    It is interesting that all the countries that the Allies helped to overthrow regime change did not support the world banking system.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    More SF’s problem than mine!
    And the answer is you take side against all terror groups, even those from your own community, whose ends you might even agree with. The means render them all beyond the Pale.

  • Skibo

    MU you will find more than enough terrorist groups supported by the British Government all over the world. Often groups that one day they support and arm and tomorrow may bomb.