To win in politics, you need to be able to count, which is why we need a December election

Back when I worked in the party’s Campaigns & Elections Department, one of my contributions to the Liberal Democrats was working out and spreading a new way of calculating how many votes you need to win in an election and hence how many voters to target with activity such as direct mail. Part of the reason for doing that was a reaction to otherwise well-organised campaigns that had lost because, in part, they failed to work out what scale was needed to win.

To win an election, you need to be able to count – and that’s just as true about winning in Parliament.

It’s why the idea of voting for Jeremy Corbyn to be Prime Minister was never a runner for stopping Brexit in the Commons in this Parliament. Even leaving aside the question of whether a life-long Eurosceptic as Prime Minister would really stop Brexit, there simply were not the votes in Parliament for this.

Likewise at the moment, however much Liberal Democrats and others may wish it to be different, there are not enough votes in Parliament to secure a People’s Vote.

Merely sticking with demanding a People’s Vote is a losing strategy unless there’s an accompanying plan for securing those extra votes from MPs. Seven times this Parliament has voted against a referendum on the terms of Brexit.

Which is why Jo Swinson is right to be pushing for a pre-Christmas election. The way to get more MPs voting against Brexit going ahead is to get more anti-Brexit MPs into Parliament. That means a general election.


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13 responses to “To win in politics, you need to be able to count, which is why we need a December election”

  1. There is much push-back and confusion about this decision from Lib Dem members and supporters. It would be helpful if the decision tree that lead to this point could be published, so members can see how/why the Party ” abandoned the PV” (which they haven’t – but that’s not the message that has been received).

  2. Although anyone counting the Opinion Polls and their worsening trend of the last few weeks, might fear a 1983 style GE with a split opposition and a strong Cons vote resulting in a large Cons majority following a ‘People v Parliament’ election.

    This new style Cons Parliamentary Party purged of the expelled ‘Wets’ (as Thatcher described them in the 1980’s) would unquestionably be more right wing than Thatcher ever was. So we could end up not just with a harder Brexit but 5 years of a majority Cons Govt in the Rees/Mogg/Raab/Patel mould which would run rampant on domestic issues.

  3. The essence of this is do we give up our fight to stop any form of brexit and settle for trying to achieve some sort of so-called soft brexit? While not using terminology like “die in a ditch” I regard the Lib Dem mission as throwing everything at stopping brexit altogether. This means supporting a brexit deal only if and when “no deal” is the only other possibility. We are certainly not at that point yet,
    The next question is “Even if Johnson’s deal were to be defeated or delayed in parliament what do we think will happen on January 31?” Will the EU grant a further extension, which under a new Speaker we would have to find a way to force Boris Johnson to request?
    Given that almost all of the Tory rebels and a sizeable chunk of the Labour Party only oppose “no deal” and will vote for Johnson’s deal, it might well get through, in which case we are out of the EU and into transition at the end of November or end of December.
    In all these circumstances the only way we can at least create a chance of defeating brexit is to seek a new mandate from the electorate before the Johnson bill is taken any further. It stands to reason that the only option to do this in the timescale required is a general election. Even in the unlikely event of a majority in this parliament for a people’s vote there just is not time to implement it.

  4. I think that pushing for a December election would not be the membership’s preferred option, though I am sure that they would also want to be supportive of Jo. I also think that pursuing a December election is a strategic mistake. Whilst we have not got a Peoples Vote approved yet by this parliament, in time I am sure that we would get there. Actually pushing for a December election has probably set us back from achieving that goal. It would be much better now to support reintroducing May’s deal (much better than Johnson’s) as long as there is a confirmatory vote, and then not moving from that position, unless a revoke decision is required to eliminate no deal. The Tories can then be kept in place as a “puppet” government by parliament and parliament can take control if progress to a referendum is blocked / delayed by the government. The longer the Tories are stuck having to deliver the will of parliament the better.

    • In fact, there aren’t many more options out there. December elections are rare but January ones are unheard of – when was the last one? How soon in January could you hold an election where the campaign wasn’t nullified by Britain’s two-week Christmas shut-down? I think the answer is 6 February 2020. I suggest a December election is the only useful way in which Parliament can use the 31 January extension.

  5. Another way to get more anti-Brexit MPs is to persuade sufgicient existing ones to change. The thought of losing their seats in December might just bring that about. Indeed, is that Jo’s cunning plan?

  6. Hi Paul, I think we have to accept now that a People’s Vote is a country mile from being approved with the Parliament. There are scores of Labour MPs who would vote against it, as would the majority of Tory rebels and the DUP. We just dont have the numbers and never will have. Its far more likely that if there was no election, Boris’s deal would eventually go through on Labour votes. In that situation I see no option other than an election to avoid leaving.

    I agree though, it could be a disaster if the Torys get a stonking majority, but at least if that did happen you could truly say people knew what they were voting for.

  7. I supported a November General Election with December as a good second best. I want a “Peoples Vote” and I think the present MPs would eventually vote for it as views do change in a minority of people as circumstances change. The big problem then , if we do get such a referendum is the question and how many Remainers who acqiece to the precious vote as “Democratic” or even “the will of the people” can be persuaded that they should vote Remain again for sound Democratic reasons (that are clear to me) and a few Leavers can be persuaded like wise. Relying on “once only” voters not to vote Brexit again is a dangerours reliance, So its still all about giving those logical reasons for voting Remain from MPs to the elctorate. I just blame Conservative PMs , Conservative MPs and Conservative voters who pushed us all into having to consider Rubbish deals when the best deal is already ours, parly achieved by Margaret Thacher ( by bete noir.)

  8. This could be a massive disaster, if Johnson wins the GE, we will get a very hard brexit and the most right wing Government ever. They will rig any subsequent elections with boundary changes, voter ID and any other trick Cummings can think of. Scotland will probably get it’s independence, so we will face a future of perpetual Tory Government.

    • Any election is a risk in that sense because it could be won by the Conservatives. But unless we’re going to go down the route of abolishing elections (!), that risk has to be taken at some point as it’s what democracy is about. Without an election and the chance to stop Brexit before 31st January, there’s a big risk the other way – that the existing Parliament (which seven times has voted against a People’s Vote) ends up voting through Brexit, without the public getting either a referendum or a general election to decide.

  9. Well argued, all above, and I have taken on board all the reasons for the December elections, but I still think with Paul Williams that this is a mistake. It’s all too likely that Johnson will get his majority and be freed. We should have continued the debates to get a soft Brexit deal – maybe May’s improved – that could be the alternative to Remain in a referendum, and finally got the Commons to agree it and the EU to grant enough time. But the decision seems to have been made, and the GE to come in December, unfortunately.

  10. I admit I have been troubled by the changes in LibDem position. I was very happy with the Bollocks to Brexit stance that worked so well in the Euro elections – even winning in my old town. The time to make the move would have been soon after then – a vote of confidence and install a caretaker PM for the purpose of quickly agreeing a leave option and then running a referendum.
    (I would say that had this happened it should have been a 3 way choice with remain, a credible leave option with a deal and exit without a deal (to avoid the betrayal myth growing) with a second preference voting – as well as votes for 16 year olds, and votes for UK subjects living in the rest of the EU, of course!)
    Sadly this window of opportunity was rammed shut by Corbyn and co. stating that there can only be one alternative PM. Sure, as leader of the opposition he should get the first chance, but when that failed then he would need to whip the party to support another – maybe even another Labour MP that could get support.
    I can count as well, and in order for Corbyn to get approval then either some current members of the Conservative party, as well as all the current Labour party, plus others would have to agree or maybe even members of the DUP would have to support someone they suspect of supporting the IRA! – that would never happen despite any cries of treachery about LibDems from his team.
    So what is left? A peoples vote has lost so many times with the current parliament that it would be foolish to think it would pass now. So the only way out is either continue to oppose and wait for Labour rebels to break and support the current hard Brexit, or wait to crash out, or get an election before Brexit, while students are where they can vote. We sure as hell would not want to wait till after Brexit to have an election…
    The election then becomes the least worse position to take for the LibDems. What else could be done?
    Then to policy. A general election has more legitimacy in the UK than a referendum, so if the LibDems or Brexit wins a majority then they can execute their policies of revoking A50 or bombing out respectively. Of course the LibDems will support a new referendum, However should the LibDems actually get say 30+% of the vote then they could get a decent majority (thanks electoralcalculus – although the site is very slow just now for some reason… https://www.electoralcalculus.co.uk/cgi-bin/usercode.py?CON=20&LAB=20&LIB=31&Brexit=15&Green=10&UKIP=&TVCON=&TVLAB=&TVLIB=50&TVBrexit=&TVGreen=&TVUKIP=&SCOTCON=&SCOTLAB=&SCOTLIB=&SCOTBrexit=&SCOTGreen=&SCOTUKIP=&SCOTNAT=&display=AllChanged&regorseat=%28none%29&boundary=2017base). As the LibDems have been supporting electoral reform for decades, it would be ironic to see them win because of FPTP… And with that they could remove A50 and have the initial benefit of the post Brexit surge of investment we should get.
    Many of us would be so happy to stop living in the Tory psycho drama of Brexit we have been in for the last years.

  11. Of course there could always be an amendment added to the general election bill to have a referendum on the same day 😉

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