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.

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Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty