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We are getting a snap general election, it’s just a question of when. Will it be on October 15, as Boris Johnson wants? Will it be on November 7, or even later that month, as many Labour MPs would like?
The one-day, fast-tracked approval by the Commons tonight of Hilary Benn’s bill - to delay Brexit beyond October 31 - makes it easier for Jeremy Corbyn to support for an autumn polling day. The bill still faces a potentially fatal filibuster in the Lords, as I’ve been told Tory whips have messaged peers to run down the clock to prorogation on Monday.
But even if the Benn bill somehow clears the Lords, many Labour MPs distrust Johnson so much that they want their party to resist the temptation to go for an election next week.
In a significant clarification of Labour’s stance this afternoon, Keir Starmer said on the floor of the House that avoiding no-deal “requires the passing and implementation of this Bill”. The word “implementation” was crucial as the legislation won’t kick in until mid-October, making an election more likely in November.
There’s was a real battle behind the scenes within Labour between those close to Corbyn who want to get on with an election as soon as possible, and those who fear the PM will use some mechanism to change the date of polling day. Clive Efford summed up the mood of the PLP when he explained why delaying beyond Halloween would be Labour’s best tactic: “Johnson said ‘do or die’, so let’s let him die!”.
And it’s certainly true that many in Labour believe that if Johnson is forced to break his central promise, that would put rocket boosters under the Brexit Party and eat into Tory support across the country.
Combine that with the loss of Conservative seats in Scotland, the Lib Dem revival as moderate Tory voters revolt at no-deal (fuelled by the deselection of moderate MPs) and lingering austerity in Labour marginals, and that election gamble looks very risky indeed for Johnson.
In another extraordinary day in Westminster, Sir Nicholas Soames (above) fought back tears as he lamented the state of his party. But minister Kwasi Kwarteng had already told LBC: “It doesn’t matter whose grandson Sir Nicholas is.” No wonder Alistair Burt warned: “I say to my colleagues, if we’re being purged now, who is next?”
Yet when that election comes, Johnson is going to be ruthless in his attacks on Corbyn (he called the Labour leader a “big girl’s blouse” and accused him of “surrender” nine times in PMQs). He also believes that his crystal clear no-deal policy will contrast sharply with Labour’s Leave-and-Remain confusion at the ballot box. Yes, Johnson is tonight on course for three Commons defeats in a row, but his eyes are on the bigger prize.
It could well be that the SNP is the party that actually triggers the snap poll next Monday. Westminster leader Ian Blackford said he wanted to do so “in the next few days”, and his leader Nicola Sturgeon tweeted it had to be before parliament was prorogued. If its MPs vote on a simple majority bill to do so, Labour’s votes will be redundant. Despite this dysfunctional parliament, the PM’s electoral wish may be granted after all.
Still, I wonder if anyone in No.10 has noticed the historical significance of their election date of October 15? It was on exactly that date in 1964 that Harold Wilson won back power for Labour after 13 years of Tory rule. Let’s see how ominous that proves.
Quote Of The Day
“My Rt Hon Friend the Prime Minister, the leader of the House [Rees-Mogg] and other members of the cabinet whose serial disloyalty has been such an inspiration to so many of us”
– Sir Nicholas Soames on why he has rebelled against his government.
Wednesday Cheat Sheet
Hilary Benn’s European Union (Withdrawal) (No6) Bill passed its second reading by 329 votes to 300, with a new Tory rebel, Dame Caroline Spelman, adding to the solid 29-strong majority now opposed to the government. It passed its third reading by 327 to 299. Labour had legal advice the Stephen Kinnock amendment wouldn’t materially affect the bill.
Brexiteer peers in the House of Lords started a huge filibuster attempt to scupper Labour’s attempt to set a timetable for debate on the Benn Bill. Many were prepared for an all-night sitting. Peter Mandelson called it “procedural gerrymandering” but Tories were very chipper.
Labour’s Tan Singh Dhesi launched a withering attack on Boris Johnson’s Telegraph column in which he compared Muslim women wearing burkas to “bank robbers” and “letterboxes”. He won loud applause after demanding an apology, but didn’t get one from the PM.
Tory MPs laid into Johnson aide Dominic Cummings, with Roger Gale calling him a “foul-mouthed oaf” and Margot James spitting his name out in PMQs. Cummings “stunk of booze” as he shouted at Corbyn last night to call an election. He also swore at Greg Clark in a meeting with rebels yesterday, telling some present “I don’t know who any of you are!”
Chancellor Sajid Javid unveiled his one-year spending plans, with an extra £13bn including £2bn more for a no-deal Brexit. He promised a “decade of renewal” but Labour said it would take up to 11 more years to reverse austerity.
What I’m Reading
Orthodox Jews Still Unhappy Over October 15 Election Date | Jewish Chronicle
Hong Kong Protestors Pile More Pressure On Lam | South China Morning Post
Harry Potter Books Banned In Nashville School | Tennesseean
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.