Return to your constituencies and prepare for government” was David Steel’s rallying cry – or squeak – in 1981 and is often cited as the prime example of hubris.
There are those gathered in huddles here at Westminster, as chunks of masonry fall off the building and Ministers drop out of the cabinet with the same dull and damaging thud, who repeat Sir David’s mantra and cast covetous eyes on that slew of Tory marginals that look set to fall as ripe fruit into our welcoming arms.
By nature I am the most self-deludingly optimistic of men and cheerfulness keeps breaking out despite my knowledge of the awful realities and miseries of life but I fear I must disabuse my good friends and comrades. There isn’t going to be a snap election.
Politically it is more than a safe bet to wager that Theresa May will be gone before the Christmas decorations come down and, yes, the only person who would command a majority of supporters in the current blue rabble, David Davis, is otherwise engaged or having a lie in.
It is entirely possibly that a clean skin from the 2010 or 2015 intake could assume the tarnished crown and drape themselves in the moth-eaten robes of state but the real rising stars like Victoria Atkins, Tom Tugendhat, James Cleverly and Nusrat Ghani may be Papabile but surely it is too soon for them.
Graham Brady could be a Stanley Baldwin figure and Rory Stewart has some of Disraeli’s Tory iconoclasm about him but I don’t see either of them in the post just yet.
No – the real reason why there will not be an election before 2022 is constitutional – not political. The Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011 allows only two circumstances in which an early election can be held. In the current Parliament this means polling day is May 5 2022.
An early election can only be called if, either, such a motion is approved by two thirds of the whole House or without a division or if a motion of no confidence is passed and no alternative government is confirmed by the Commons within fourteen days.
In the first case there would have to be 434 Members voting for an Early Election. Of course, we would vote like a shot but do you think for a moment that the Tories, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and – especially – the Scottish Nationalists would take that suicidal leap into the dark? We must not forget the Democratic Unionist Party as all modern politics has to be seen through an orange prism.
Conventional wisdom has it that with the obvious exception of North Down there are no gains or losses to be made between Sinn Fein on the West of the Bann and the DUP to the East. That might mean voting for an early election but, with no Stormont Assembly or Executive, would that really be tenable? So where would the 434 votes come from? I rest my case.
The other circumstance – a “no confidence” vote is almost as unlikely. The agreement signed by Gavin Williamson and Jeffrey Donaldson commits the DUP to voting with the Tories under precisely these circumstances.
This government is more secure than we were in the 1974-79 period and although Jim Callaghan’s government fell on a confidence vote we survived for nearly a full term with no overall majority.
Some stout constitutional traditionalists in Greenford have queried the legitimacy of a Conservative government under new management without the bestowed legitimacy of a general election.
Eden, Macmillan, Douglas Home, Callaghan and even Gordon Brown all rose to the purple without the electorate passing them the laurel crown so I doubt that we can now make a case for Theresa’s handing of the poisoned chalice to some poor sod as being anything less than a legitimate hospital pass.
Interestingly there could be a motion or motions of censure but the Act is very specific in the wording of the “no confidence” motion and – after two weeks – the motion “that this House has confidence in Her Majesty’s Government”.
As the Tories stumble from catastrophe to crisis there is an honest humane emotion that say that they should be simply put out of their misery – for their sake and the sake of the nation.
There are also some within the People’s Party who see the opportunity to keep inflicting defeats – such as the current issue of the missing 58 Impact Assessments and the Local Housing Allowance semi-victory – while honing the skills of what is still a Shadow Cabinet largely untested in full government.
We should be streets ahead of the Austerity Alliance in the polls and part of the reason why we are not is a feeling that our potential Cabinet Ministers are not yet as well-known as they deserve to be. We also need to start landing some serious policy blows and not just standing at the side of the motorway chuckling as the cavalcade of clown cars crash into each other.
May 2022 may seem a long way away and there are dreadful cruelties – Universal Credit in particular – that we must defeat but constitutionally we must wait till then and politically I dare to suggest that it makes sense as well.