Labour really needs Theresa May to keep winning in order to avoid a snap election in 2017

The gossip inside Westminster is that Prime Minister Theresa May has staff who are considering whether they ought to call a snap election in 2017, ahead of the scheduled ballot that would normally occur in 2020, Business Insider’s Adam Bienkov noted on December 13.

Normally, the Labour party would lick its lips at the chance of getting an early shot at taking down May’s government. But right now, with Labour bobbling along with something like 28% of the vote compared to the Tories’ 44%, an election is the last thing Labour needs. Labour lost its deposit at the Richmond by-election and came fourth in Sleaford. May would win a general election in a landslide.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn could expect to emerge with fewer than 200 seats in parliament. With the SNP locking up Scotland and the Liberal Democrats peeling off votes from the 48% of people who voted Remain, and from tactical voters in Tory marginals, Labour would have no obvious way back to government. Labour could face a generation in the wilderness.

So right now the last thing Labour needs is a general election.

That puts the party in the ironic position of having to hope that May will be successful in pushing her agenda through parliament even though she has a technical majority of only 12 seats.

This is the surreal part: Under any other circumstance, an opposition party that is only 12 votes away from voting down a major plank of government policy could expect to force a no-confidence vote, which it might win. That would trigger a winnable general election.

But Labour knows that if that were to happen, May — backed by the 52% of Leave voters who want to her press through on Article 50 — would crush Corbyn at the ballot box and reopen the House of Commons with an even bigger majority.

That is one big reason why Labour has been so lukewarm in opposing May’s vague, opaque Brexit plan. It’s also one of the reasons Labour is now officially a Leave party even though it campaigned for Remain. If Labour were to join the Liberal Democrats and come out of the closet as a Remainers (as a majority of its MPs actually are), it might accidentally win a vote against the government that would trigger an election that destroys Labour.

So for the next few months, until May really stumbles in the Article 50 negotiations or the economy turns sour, expect Labour to stay out of the Tories’ way.

This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.

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