Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at The University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.
The by-election for the Conservative-held seat of Brecon & Radnorshire occurred on August 1. The Liberal Democrats won with 43.5% (up 14.3% since the 2017 election), the Conservatives had 39.0% (down 9.6%), the Brexit party had 10.5% and Labour just 5.3% (down 12.5%). In a poll taken before Boris Johnson became PM, vote shares were 43% Lib Dem, 28% Conservative, 20% Brexit and 8% Labour. The results suggest the Conservatives gained about 10% from the Brexit Party after the change in PM.
There have been six polls taken since Boris Johnson became PM on July 24 and appointed a hard Leave Cabinet. The Conservatives have gained at the expense of the Brexit party, and now have 1-5 point leads over Labour in three polls, but ten point leads in two YouGov polls and an Ipsos poll. With the Conservatives consolidating the hard Brexit vote, Labour needs to consolidate voters opposed to no-deal. There are no preferences in first past the post, so if the Conservatives monopolise the hard Brexit vote, they can win if the no-hard Brexit vote is split between Labour, the Lib Dems and Greens.
Labour’s wishy-washiness on Brexit has driven many Remain supporters to the Lib Dems and Greens. But most seats in England and Wales will be Labour vs Conservative contests. If there is a general election soon, Remain supporters could elect a Conservative government by voting for the Lib Dems or Greens. At the 2017 election, Labour had a pro-Brexit position, and they have been reluctant to change lest they lose their Leave voters.
Commons running out of options to avert no-deal
The Commons is not scheduled to return from Summer recess until September 3. If Johnson lost a confidence vote then, the Commons sits for two weeks in an attempt to form a government. If no government can be formed, a new election is required. Under this scenario, the earliest possible election date is October 24 (a Thursday, which UK elections are held on), but Johnson could advise it be held on October 31 or later. If held on October 31 (Brexit day), there would be no time to form a government before the UK crashed out.
Parliament could pass legislation requiring a Brexit extension be requested for an election, but I think Johnson is unlikely to obey any such legislation. It is the government, not parliament, that needs to make this request. I do not think there is anything parliament could do to immediately force a disobedient government to comply, especially given the Commons would be dissolved for the election. If Labour won the election, Johnson could be held in contempt of parliament, but that would be after a no-deal Brexit had occurred.
There are two ways for the Commons to ensure a no-deal Brexit does not happen. One way is to revoke the Brexit legislation altogether, without a referendum. The second way is not just to vote no-confidence in Johnson, but vote for confidence in a new government during the next two weeks. In the second scenario, Labour would be very unlikely to support any non-Labour PM. Perhaps Jeremy Corbyn could be persuaded to step aside, and allow a Labour MP with more cross-party support to become PM, but this scenario is still unlikely.
In summary, unless the Commons enacts one of the above two scenarios, Johnson may be able to force a no-deal Brexit.
Spain’s Socialists fail to form government
The Spanish Socialists won the April 28 election, but as I wrote on my personal website, a lack of cooperation between the Socialists and Podemos could mean another election. Also covered: a landslide for former comedian Zelensky’s party in the Ukraine, and the conservatives easily retain their hold over Japan’s upper house.