It will be the second Brexit election in the United Kingdom: the 2017 one was called to seek a greater majority by the then prime minister, Theresa May; the December 12 one will decide whether Boris Johnson wins a majority and the UK leaves the EU on January 31, or another EU referendum is held.
British electoral politics has long been dominated by the two main parties – Conservative and Labour – but contending Brexit loyalties have fractured the firmament, with smaller parties increasingly assuming positions of influence.
Another hung parliament will make another extension of the January 31 Brexit date and another referendum more likely with a minority Labour government in power, since all parties except the Conservatives and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP are in favour of it.
If Johnson leads the Conservatives to a majority in the 650-member House of Commons, the UK will leave the EU on the next exit date of January 31. If he falls short by 15 or 20 seats, Westminster will be in for another round of Brexit-related blood-letting.
The Conservatives won a slender majority in the 2015 election, but after the 2016 EU referendum, lost it in 2017. May remained in Downing Street with outside support from the 10-member DUP. The December 12 election is essentially about whether Johnson is able to win a majority or not.
Says politics guru John Curtice: “I would say the Tories are 2:1 on to get a majority at the moment. The chances of a Labour majority are close to zero, but that is not what this election is about. This election is a choice between whether Boris Johnson gets a majority or not”.
“Everyone else (apart from DUP is in favour of a second referendum. So once Johnson is anything more than just a little bit below the 326 mark required for an overall majority, his ability to remain in office becomes increasingly tenuous”, he told Channel 4.
The situation of hung parliament will likely lead to non-Conservative parties putting a minority Labour government in power with the mandate to hold another referendum. Labour has already committed itself to holding such a referendum, with ‘Remain in EU’ one of the oons.
Curtice said: “The Labour party doesn’t have to get more seats than the Tories. They just simply need to get Boris below 315, definitely it; below 320, pretty tough. So at the end, this is pretty much a binary election.”
“Hung parliament – then we are almost undoubtedly heading towards an extension (to the January 31 Brexit date and a second referendum; or, we get a majority and we go out on 31st of January and Boris is charged with the task,” he added.
Johnson’s ability to win a majority faces challenge not so much from Labour by itself, but by the division of votes by the newly-formed Brexit party in over 300 seats and the ‘Remain in EU’ alliance between the Liberal Democrats, Green party and the Wales-based Plaid Cymru in 60 seats.
The majority mark is 326 but the effective mark is lower, because the speaker, three deputy speakers and MPs of Sinn Fein (who do not take up seats in the House do not vote. The minority Johnson government could not get most legislation passed in the last House of Commons.
As an increasingly Brexit-weary public is asked to vote on December 12, Labour is seeking to widen the discourse beyond Brexit, promising huge spending on health, internet and welfare, forcing the Conservatives to try and match them, if not promise more.
The state of parties when the House of Commons was dissolved on November 6:
Scottish National Party: 35
Liberal Democrats: 20
Sinn Fein: 7
The Independent Group for Change: 5
Plaid Cymru: 4
Green party: 1
(Source: House of Commons