Published on 18 Apr 2017

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.

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2 reader comments

  1. H Statton says:

    The general election: was it a snap decision, or a snap decision as to when the cabinet was to be informed about the so-called snap decision? I suspect the brisk air circulating Dolgellau had nothing to do with it. Are we supposed to believe it was an epiphany?

    Is there going to be a comprehensive Brexit plan in the Tory Manifesto? Would a stable lad welcome a swift hoof in ‘the Jacobs’?

    The election announcement is cynical. The Commons and the Lords (following a minor glitch) both authorised article 50 so her claim, “there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division”, is codswallop. Of the blue team, only Ken Clarke spoke against article 50, and the Labour majority did not oppose it. Game over.

    The details of the single most apocalyptic decision made by the UK might be consigned to a codicil, a skeletal sketch at best, completely devoid of specifics; treated with contempt. We’re out of the EU! The future…

    So, Theresa May utters “trust me” and that’s that, we are supposed to sag like dead seagulls on a beach ball and accept our fate, whatever that may be. Hard, soft, red white and blue… says it all. It’s like trusting your nuts in the hands of a squirrel.

    As an aside, I thought the whole point of Westminster was to debate and not robotically agree on what’s best for the country, but hey…

    Snap decisions in my experience are usually made following some period of reflection however small; a calculation based on probability. The Conservatives are doing well in the polls; people are ‘voter-fatigued’ which could work in May’s favour, Brexit (plan or no plan) supporters want out of Europe despite being lied to prior to the referendum…

    Non-voters continuously use the excuses, “they are all the same” or “I don’t trust any of them” when referring to politicians. Is it possible that the British public will suffer another Conservative Government just ‘because’, or will they consider the plight of the welfare state? Will they stay at home on polling day and then moan about the result saying voting wouldn’t have changed anything anyway?

    If ever we needed upheaval it’s now. The elite are becoming the ultra-elite, a negligent parent evermore distant from the growing pains of society.

    I fear Corbyn has done himself no favours by ruling out a coalition Government. Labour should have been trying to win over the ‘floating voters’ and not just preaching to the choir. The grassroots support alone will not win the General Election.

    “The country is coming together?” The country is complacent in a self-loathing sort of way. A lot of people like Corbyn’s policies but are wary of voting Labour; they can’t see him as PM.

  2. H. Jameel says:

    The PM decision to call for an early election is probably aimed to strengthen her position so that she could challenge the hard brixeteers behind her.She must be now thoroughly briefed about the hard choices UK needs to make in order to get even a barely acceptable deal with the EU. Therefore, she is preparing for considerable concessions. Mrs May is wiser than her predecessor and, most probably ,has no further ambition beyond the next five yea rs. After 8 th June, expect more surprises.

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