There’s an assumption in Westminster that the Labour Party would have to back a snap general election if Boris Johnson called one this week. Jeremy Corbyn has said that ‘an election is the democratic way forward’, while his Shadow Brexit minister Jenny Chapman said Labour would vote against one that came after 31 October, adding that ‘having a general election becomes one of the few ways that we are able to prevent no deal’.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Labour will provide the numbers to approve an election motion in the Commons. I have been speaking to MPs in the upper echelons of the party and on the backbenches and many of them privately say they would vote against the motion, even if whipped to do so. They see it as a trap which Johnson could then use to force through a no-deal Brexit by using prerogative proclamation power to move polling day to after 31 October. They have not, they tell me, seen any persuasive arguments in favour of backing an election, and think Brexit needs to be sorted first.
I understand that Labour whips have been inundated with calls from colleagues who do not want an election and either want this message passed back up to the leadership or are threatening to vote against. One senior source tells me that there would easily be a majority against it if the party didn’t whip.
Of course, the party will whip MPs to back its position. This isn’t free vote territory. So then we get into the very interesting territory of whether the current Labour payroll vote would support an election, or whether some frontbenchers might resign from their roles in order to vote against one. ‘Some’ could mean a handful, or it could be a more serious insurrection against Corbyn, which would increase the instability felt by the Labour leader. This is something the plotters against Corbyn want. Not only do they not want an election now, they also don’t want to fight an election with Corbyn as the leader, as they feel all the Tories’ theories about a majority are predicated on having a weak opposition.
That’s all for the future. But for now, it’s worth taking a closer look before assuming that the Labour Party will, as a whole, back an election.