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Comment: Election plunge would be a bold move for Boris

By Peter Madeley | Politics | Published:

He's described it as a total no goer, ruled it out completely and said the chances of it happening are next to zero.

Is Boris Johnson really gearing up for a general election?

But the rumours doing the rounds in Whitehall that Boris Johnson may call a general election, should he win the Tory leadership contest, have started to get louder over the past week.

According to “senior allies”, the overwhelming favourite to become our next PM wants to put it to the people while Jeremy Corbyn is still around, presumably in the belief that he stands a good chance of beating him.

The fear is that one day Labour might actually elect a competent leader, someone who can appeal to the whole country rather than just those deluded members who offer blind loyalty to Comrade Corbyn and foolishly think he can win a general election.

A 2019 poll is now the clear favourite with the bookies, and the word "November" is been muttered in hushed tones around Conservative HQ with increasing regularity.

You can see the logic: put the sword in while Labour is at its weakest point, floundering in a mess of internal rows over Brexit and anti-Semitism.

If Mr Corbyn could not make any inroads into an administration as wretched and dysfunctional as the one Theresa May presided over, then surely he would be blown out of the water by a resurgent Conservative Party?

Only it's not that simple.

The risk candidate?

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Of course, Mr Johnson is not quite yet our Prime Minister, and if Jeremy Hunt defies all predictions and wins, the chances of an early general election disappear.

This is a man who probably considers sprinkling a dash of sugar on his cornflakes to be a daring risk, so putting his newly formed government to a public vote wouldn't ever cross his mid.

Prime Minister Hunt would batten down the hatches, try – and surely fail – to deliver Brexit, while diligently continuing his vain attempts to not be like his predecessor.

Calling a general election would be down towards the bottom of his ‘to do’ list.

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But what about Mr Johnson?

He’s not regarded as a risk taker. He’s more of a risk avoider if anything, which he does with great aplomb while he’s busy avoiding answering questions and avoiding nailing his colours to any particular mast – presumably in case he changes his mind at a later date.

We don't really know where he stands on quite a few issues (his flip-flopping on HS2 immediately springs to mind), but on Brexit he has been crystal clear.

We will be leaving the EU on October 31 come what may, he has repeatedly said – delivering a message that has satiated party members but opens up a whole world of complexities when it comes to putting it into practice.

The new Prime Minister faces an immediate dilemma.

He needs to deliver Brexit and doesn't really want to leave without a deal. But Parliament hasn't suddenly changed its tune, and remains filled with MPs determined to block our departure at all costs.

This past week's vote aimed at preventing the prorogation of Parliament to stop 'no deal' was an early warning, with 17 Tory MPs rebelling against the Government in a clear one-fingered signal to Mr Johnson.

Add to this the seemingly unsolvable problem of the Irish backstop, and the EU’s reluctance to renegotiate, with new commission president Ursula von der Leyen likely to be just as obstructive as Jean-Claude Juncker was.

Problem solving?

In theory at least, a general election could solve these issues.

The chances are that some Remainer Tory MPs would stand down. Others would be deselected by associations immersed in Brexit fury.

By securing a decent majority in Parliament, the new PM would end his party's reliance on the DUP and be afforded a fair degree of wriggle room regarding Brexit.

That's the best case scenario – the reality could be a lot worse.

Firstly the Tories would need to put together a credible manifesto, i.e. one that is nothing like the document of disaster that cost the party its majority in 2017.

Even then the election would be something of a free-for-all, with the Brexit Party – and the resurgent Lib Dems and Greens – vying for seats that have been held by either Labour or the Conservatives for years.

There is no great public appetite for a third vote in five years, so if the PM hasn't delivered Brexit by Halloween, the punishment meted out to the Tories could mirror the carnage of the EU elections.

It could result in the party being banished to the electoral fringes for a decade.

Even if the the Tories win, seeing off Mr Corbyn would have its downside. While he would be gone – retired to the backbenches to snipe about Israel – there would be a genuine possibility of a Labour resurgence.

Conservative members who have voted for Mr Johnson have been repeating the same mantra for weeks now – he’s the man who can "unite the party, deliver Brexit and defeat Corbyn".

But it is eminently possible that the opposite may occur.

A general election would be fraught with difficulties, and with politics in its current turbulent state where anything and everything is possible, the new Tory Prime Minister would need to have a screw loose to call one.

Mr Johnson might just be mad enough to do it.

Peter Madeley

By Peter Madeley
@P_Madeley_Star

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.

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