Richard North, 04/04/2005  

With the announcement of the general election now expected tomorrow, with the date widely predicted for 5 May, Philip Johnston in today's Telegraph is complaining that Tony Blair is abusing his electoral powers.

Do we need a general election, Johnston asks. The government has a three-figure majority in the Commons; there is no great crisis facing the country; and there is no obvious reason for Mr Blair to seek a fresh mandate now when Parliament can lawfully continue for another 12 months.

With the greatest respect to Mr Johnson, he clearly has not thought this through. On 1 July, the UK assumes the rotating presidency of the EU and for six months, considerable government effort will be devoted to managing the affairs of the Community, with the thousands of meetings that entails. During that period, it would be inconceivable that there could also be a general election campaign.

Then, into next year, there will be the EU constitution referendum to deal with, and it would not be acceptable for the government to run both a referendum and a general election campaign together.

The only option Blair would have would be to run the referendum now and leave the general election to next year, but since he has reserved the presidency period for talking up the benefits of the EU – however forlorn that might be – that is not a practical option.

On that basis, there is only one practical slot for the general election, and that is this Spring. So yes, Mr Johnston, I am afraid we do need a general election now. Abuse or not, Blair really has no option.

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