Labour’s leadership is hesitant to call a parliamentary vote of no confidence in the government since Theresa May pulled her big Brexit vote. But now might actually be the perfect time to do so, argues Conor Pope
‘Never interrupt your enemy while they are making a mistake’ is the Napoleon Bonaparte advice that, according to Barry Gardiner, is what guides the Labour party at times like this.
There are two problems with that, though.
One is that Napoleon’s military ‘enemies’ tended not to be running the country he was living in.
Two is that it does not take into account time limitations.
These are the two major issues that should affect Labour’s approach to a no confidence vote in the government. Given the lengthy procedural elements that the Fixed Term Parliament Act work into forcing a general election, coupled with the Brexit deadline of 29 March 2019, time is not something that we have a great deal of.
The major argument against calling one now is that it may not be successful, and we would have wasted our opportunity to bring down the government; that it would be better to wait for the perfect opportunity.
Frankly, there might not be a better opportunity than this. While the past few years have made us more inured to political crisis, the sight of the Tory party tearing themselves apart will not last forever. We know that at least 48 Conservative members of parliament do not want the current prime minister to carry on.
And, despite what some people say, we do not have only one shot at this – one defeated no confidence vote does not stop us tabling another if an opportune moment arises.
Here is the time pressure we have. Labour party conference resolved to make our policy one where we would push for a no confidence vote if the government’s withdrawal agreement was voted down in parliament. Now we know that the deadline May has set for that being voted on is 21 January.
That deadline means that a vote of no confidence could come on 22 January. Build in the two week period before an election is called, and that would mean that a general election campaign would officially start on 5 February, with polling day on 14 March.
Taking office on 15 March, the new prime minister would have exactly two weeks before Britain leaves the EU on Friday 29 March. That does not build in a lot of time.
However, the conference policy of waiting for the government’s Brexit agreement to fall does not preclude calling for a general election in other scenarios, it just specifies the one in which the party should definitely push for one.
Failure to trigger an election is the circumstance in which Labour would consider backing a public vote on Brexit. There is the argument that what people who are pushing for this no confidence vote really want is for Labour to push for a public say on Brexit.
But the point is to keep a public vote on the table while there is still time. We have three months and two weeks until the Brexit deadline, and either May’s attempted renegotiation or a potential Tory leadership contest will eat into that considerably. A failed no confidence vote tomorrow does not preclude another successful one, but no vote at all precludes pushing for a People’s Vote. Any later, and the prospect for a referendum at all may no longer be there.
Sure, we could decide not to interrupt the Tories right now. Or we could exploit their divisions while they are at their worst.
Conor Pope is deputy editor of Progress. He tweets at @Conorpope
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