Three things that aren’t going to happen

I’m seeing a lot of speculation about what happens now, following the General Election results. Well, I don’t really know. But here are three things I keep seeing discussed and suggested online that I’m pretty sure won’t happen:

Labour won’t form an alternative Government

There is no path to a Labour minority Government or coalition in this Parliament

In Israeli politics we talk a lot about a “blocking bloc”, a group of parties with enough seats that they can prevent alternative governments from being formed, even if the bloc itself doesn’t have a majority of seats.

The Conservatives have won 318 seats (discounting the Speaker). 318 seats represents a blocking bloc, assuming Sinn Fein MPs don’t take their seats.

For Labour to form an alternative Government, then, they need a minimum of 319 seats on a possible Queen’s Speech

Among the other parties:

  • Labour have 262 seats
  • the SNP has 35
  • The LibDems have 12
  • Plaid Cymru has 4
  • Caroline Lucas represents 1 Green seat

That adds to only 314, not enough to pass a Queen’s Speech over Conservative opposition.

Now, the DUP has won 10 seats. But the DUP has made it clear that they will not vote to make Jeremy Corbyn prime minister. Young voters might not believe Corbyn supported the IRA, but the DUP were there and remember it well. Yes, the DUP share power with Sinn Fein out of necessity in the NI Assembly, but I find it impossible to imagine Corbyn passing a Queen’s Speech on DUP votes. At most he could try to convince them to abstain. But that wouldn’t be enough.

A DUP source has already made this explicit:

And so Corbyn will not become Prime Minister without another General Election, unless something very dramatic happens like a lot of Conservative defections. And Labour won’t get into Downing Street in this Parliament unless Corbyn does, eventually, go.

The DUP won’t force the Tories into a softer Brexit

The DUP has said it opposes a ‘hard Brexit’. It’s particularly concerned about the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. That border is completely open and isn’t even marked in many places. If the UK leaves the Customs Union and EEA (ie, a ‘hard Brexit’), it is very difficult to see how this situation can persist. It will become the only land border between the UK and the EU, subject to customs inspections, limitations on free movement etc. The DUP also knows that border restrictions might lead to greater support for Irish Nationalism; apolitical Northern Irish residents may feel it’d be easier to be a part of a united Ireland.

Theresa May will need some degree of support — or at least no active opposition — from the DUP in Parliament to be able to govern. So surely the DUP will soften the current Brexit plans?

Well… probably not. The DUP are pragmatic. They’ll do a deal to bring money to NI, and to get exemptions from equality laws, but they won’t try to do a deal that’s impossible.

And it is impossible, because another party won’t let it happen: The Conservative party.

There is a big section of the Conservative party that is obsessed with the EU. It’s all they care about. They relentlessly plotted against John Major, leading him to famously dub them “bastards”. They forced David Cameron into committing to an EU referendum in the 2015 manifesto. They accepted May as long as she pledged total fealty to the Brexit cause. If they get a whiff that May is backing down, they will move against her.

Some of these Tories are already briefing the Telegraph that she won’t be allowed to go for any of these softer options:

Theresa May has been warned by eurosceptic ministers that she will face a leadership challenge if she attempts to water down Brexit

Of course, the DUP know this too. They don’t want to leave the Single Market and they might vote against it, but they aren’t going to make it a condition of giving Theresa May supply and confidence.

The Tories won’t quickly replace May

When the election results started to come in, it became clear that Theresa May would not get a majority, let alone the stonking great majority she wanted. Immediately, speculation began as to whether she would resign. She’d taken a big decision that backfired. She was diminished by the election campaign and weakened by the result. Perhaps it would be honourable for her to go quickly?

But actually, May going immediately would be sort of a nightmare.

As described above, there’s no rainbow coalition waiting to take over. If May resigned, the next Prime Minister would be another Conservative, and another Conservative without a personal mandate. The voters would have reluctantly, barely chosen Theresa May and be lumbered with someone else.

On top of this, May herself was never elected by the Conservative Party membership. She became Prime Minister after her opponents plotted, voted and withdrew unexpectedly and quickly. But the short campaign never left Westminster.

If Andrea Leadsom had stayed in the race, would May have won over the membership to become Prime Minister? I don’t know, but I always felt that the members would favour the socially-conservative, Brexit-backing Leadsom over the MPs’ first choice.

Tory MPs must know that a contest won’t be a coronation this time. The party membership would have to choose the Prime Minister from the two final nominees, and one of those nominees would likely be a hardline Brexiteer who the members might love but the public could despise.

This leadership campaign would take a couple of months at least, and it would happen while the March 2019 deadline for leaving the European Union drew ever closer.

Does this mean May will last? I don’t know. It’s hard to see how she manages to keep Anna Soubry and Michael Gove, Liam Fox and Andrea Leadsom, Philip Hollobone and Sarah Wollaston all voting the same way on every issue. Empathy, humility and self-awareness are critical here, but her Downing Street speech this morning displayed none of these qualities at all.

But with the Fixed-Term Parliament Act preventing a quick dissolution unless the Conservatives vote for it, the mess of the process and the Brexit clock ticking, many Tories will just feel like they don’t have any choice. Replacing May is just much harder and riskier than keeping her.