Richard North, 30/10/2019  
 


I wrote on Monday that it would have saved a lot of time and energy if MPs had proceeded directly to the vote on the general election, as most MPs had already made up their minds.

But that could equally have applied yesterday when the Commons voted on the Early Parliamentary General Election Bill at third reading. The ayes delivered 438 votes against the noes who mustered a mere 20. The significance of course is that the "aye" vote came in at four more than the magic 434 votes needed under the FTPA to approve an election.

With yesterday's vote transferred, the election could have been sorted on Monday, But as it stands, we must still go through the formality of the House of Lords approval before Royal Assent. But today, we should get official confirmation that a general election is to be held on Thursday 12 December.

However, the difference between the two days is significant. Taking it to the wire, with the Lib-Dems' Bill "captured" by Johnson, means that the link has broken between approving the WAB and the election. Johnson has been forced to go to the country without taking us out of the EU on 31 October. He has failed to "do", but – fortunately for him – he doesn't have to die.

Whether his broken promise will affect the Tories' chances on 12 December is anyone's guess. But then, the pundits are also saying that this election is impossible to call. However, even if Johnson is able to swerve around his inability to get us out of the EU, if his deal does come under detailed scrutiny, he could be in trouble.

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), for instance, is claiming that his deal will leave the UK £70 billion worse off a year than if it had remained in the EU. On the other hand, that may not trouble Brexit enthusiasts, so the finding might have little impact.

As to the polls, the best I can find at the moment puts the Tories on 36.6 percent (down 7.2 percent on the 2017 election) compared with Labour at 24.5 percent, remarkably stable compared with its earlier figure, coming in 0.9 percent down.

Six weeks before the 2017 election, the Tories were polling at 50 percent with Labour on 25 percent. With the situation just as volatile if not more so, Johnson actually starts off in a less favourable position than did Mrs May at an equivalent period. If the Tory vote dropped by the same amount this time, Labour would win.

The big change on the current poll though is the Lib-Dem showing, standing at 17.9 percent, up 7.4 percent on the 2017 election. As for, the Farage Company, it takes 11.1 percent but, when compared with the Ukip vote in 2017, at 10.8 percent, the reality is that very little has changed. Farage has effectively stripped Ukip of its vote and taken it with him to his new home.

On the face of it, therefore, Farage's activities might have little more impact than Ukip had in the 2017 election, when the party lost its only seat. The real wild card in this election would look to be the Lib-Dems, although any extrapolation from poll results is far from scientific. But then, if it's guesswork, there are going to be a lot of people making guesses over the next few weeks.

The only certainty is that there are a lot of people who are already fed up with the idea of an election, as much as they are with Brexit, hence the headline of an article in the Guardian: "'It's doing my head in': UK voters sick of Brexit – and the election". But anyone can play that game with selective reporting. Probably, as many people could be found to say the opposite.

More importantly, Donald Tusk has responded to the news with a tweet to his "British friends". Advising us that the EU-27 had formally adopted the extension, he warned that "it may be the last one". Please, he said, "make the best use of this time". And yet, this may be his last intervention. He concluded his tweet saying, "I also want to say goodbye to you as my mission here is coming to an end. I will keep my fingers crossed for you".

It was that formal adoption, of course, which gave Corbyn the face-saving opportunity to back yesterday's election move. His change of heart came shortly before eleven yesterday morning after a meeting of the shadow cabinet. In a statement, complete with a video clip of him with his shadow cabinet (pictured), he affirmed that, following the EU's confirmation, his party was now ready to back an election.

No one was churlish enough to point out that, as late as Sunday, the man was saying he needed additional guarantees that Johnson would not drop us out of the EU at the end of 2020 without a deal, effectively creating a no-deal scenario one step removed.

The previous day's press publicity must have really hurt, with the accusations of cowardice. Now, the born-again hero of the masses is game for the fight – what a difference a day makes. Corbyn is saying that Labour would fight "its biggest campaign ever". He was "absolutely looking forward to going to every part of the country with my wonderful shadow cabinet team here and all the fantastic Labour activists to give message of hope where there isn't one with this government".

Johnson took a somewhat different view, arguing that a "new and revitalised" parliament was needed to take Britain out of the European Union. "We are left with no choice but to go to the country to break free from this impasse", he told the Commons.

To his own backbenchers, though, he admitted that it would be "a tough election", now claiming that he had not wanted an election but had been forced to seek one because Labour would have "sliced and diced" the WAB "beyond recognition".

But, if it's going to be a tough election for the Tories, it stands to be even tougher for the electorate, who have to choose between two flawed figures, each with significant undesirable traits. Not since Heath and Wilson have voters been confronted with such a need to hold their noses when they cast their ballots, even if both Corbyn and Johnson do have their fans.

The ultimate irony of all this though is that, with the election on the 12th, the result will be declared on Friday the 13th – a seriously bad omen for those of a superstitious demeanour. It will need to be a lucky government to overcome such bad karma. Clint Eastwood, therefore, might have had the right words for each of the two main leaders: "Do you feel lucky, punk?"

One of them might be, but I have a feeling that the electorate won't be lucky, whatever the outcome. The biggest problem with this election is that, whichever way we vote, we still end up with 650 MPs. At this juncture, "none of the above" strikes me as being an extremely attractive option.






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