General Election: Surprise among the Cabinet?
One Cabinet minister told me a rumour of an early election announcement had gone around the reception room just before they filed into Cabinet. Until that moment, the minister said, “not a clue.”
The minister said he looked long and hard round the room to check facial expressions as the Prime Minister said more or less what she said at the lecture in the street outside. He didn’t spot a single telling expression. Everyone was inscrutable, desperate not to look surprised.
There’s been widespread mockery of the Prime Minister’s arguments that dangerous individuals like the Lib Dems’ 8 MPs might frustrate Brexit in the Commons and that was why she had to call an early election. But the bit of the Downing Street announcement that does ring true to ministers is growing discomfort in Tory circles about the alignment of the EU negotiations timetables and the fixed term elections timetable.
Ministers, most outspokenly I hear was David Davis, have been voicing their anxiety that there the talk with the EU27 would get to their most testing moments just as the PM’s mandate was running thin, as the 2020 general election was coming into view, increasing EU27 potential negotiating strength and reducing Theresa May’s. That argument has now won out.
On the Labour side, the PLP meeting is now delayed until 8.15pm tonight. I doubt it’ll be as lively as past ones. Most anti-Corbyn Labour MPs are determined that the leadership doesn’t get to pin on them what they’re convinced will be a bad defeat.
National Executive Committee officers have tonight agreed that there is not time to run trigger ballots which could’ve seen some constituency activists de-select Labour MPs who have displeased Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters. One senior Labour figure said the instigation for that “came from the Leader’s office, no question.” The full NEC is expected to endorse that ruling tomorrow. Diane Abbott, on Channel 4 News, claimed it was nothing but “rumours.”
In the months leading up to today’s announcement it has tended to be Labour MPs talking up an early election to me. They couldn’t believe a Tory leader wouldn’t seize the opportunity to go on what one senior Labour figure said looked like a “turkey shoot.” Some of them openly said that this was the necessary defeat needed for Labour to be reborn. They would “pin it” on Jeremy Corbyn and, in time, Theresa May might be seen as the person who was “responsible for the rebirth of the Labour Party.”
Corbyn aides say they’ve long had the party on an election footing and are well prepared to launch their campaign.