Keen watchers of British politics need no reminding that Gordon Brown almost called an election after he became prime minister in 2007, then didn’t, then regretted it deeply. It is one of the great what-ifs of the 21st century. Almost everything that fills out the political landscape today in the UK would be different. There would have been no Coalition and we’d probably never have voted to leave the EU, to take two obvious examples.
What’ll be the what-ifs people will be talking about in ten years time if Theresa May sticks to her plan not to call a general election before 2020? Because it is starting to look increasingly foolish of her not to do so within the next twelve months.
Some pundits are saying that it would be a disaster for May to call one in the near future (or to try and get parliament to agree to one, I should say, with the Fixed Term Parliament Act in mind). They talk about the problem of May having to go to the electorate with very different ideas from all over the Conservative Party about what Brexit should look like. But the Brexit questions are going to get harder, not easier as time goes on; there is no easy fix for what the country voted for in June. So this argument doesn’t wash for me.
The Labour Party can’t get into more disarray. It can stay where it is, which is probable for the time being, but it can’t really get much worse. If Corbyn gets re-elected as leader (which now seems unstoppable), the chance to go up against him must seem unbelievably tempting for the prime minister, surely.
Yet the rumours are that she’s definitely not going to do it. Perhaps she is just running this brilliantly and is actually thinking of trying to get an election called in early 2017, all while keeping a perfect lid on that. But if she really isn’t considering a general election in 2017 then she has to seriously consider this: when is the moment going to be better than the current one is to do so? Perhaps she has fooled herself into thinking that she can get a great deal on Brexit that will square all circles and unite her party completely. If so, she is falling into the same trap as all of her recent predecessors in the Tory top seat. Let us me clear: this is as good as it is going to get for the Conservative Party. It is downhill from here; every month Theresa May waits to attempt to get a general election called after the end of September 2016 is another few thousand votes lost in whatever general election will eventually happen next.
Perhaps in the end it really doesn’t matter; perhaps all of the possible contenders will continue to be mercifully awful. Perhaps. If I was Theresa May, I wouldn’t count on that.