Mark Argent
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Politics:: articles since 2015 General Election
The next election?

20 July 2015, first published in Liberal Democrat Voice

Three Lib Dem gains in council by-elections coinciding with Tim Farron’s election as leader are great news. They invite the language of a gradual comeback to a much improved result in 2020.

But is the next General Election five years away?

In the normal course of events the Conservative majority of 15 would be vulnerable to defections and losses through by-elections. In the last parliament, there were two defections from the Tories to UKIP and 21 by-elections. It is entirely possible that they would seek form a minority government, but the Tories would lose their overall majority of just eight seats moved to other parties. In the normal course of events, that happening in this parliament would be far from implausible.

The EU referendum adds another layer to this. Events in Scotland since September offer a sharp reminder of how much a referendum can affect the whole political landscape. Among the possible scenarios are:

Each of these would point to an early general election.

On top on of that, I have heard one Tory MP talk of repealing the Fixed Term Parliaments Act as it was “only there to appease Liberal Democrats in coalition”. If they do that, then all bets would be off. In case that sounds far-fetched, a story in The Independent (20 July 2015) suggests Labour are heading for oblivion. That might well be an exaggeration, but I could understand huge pressure in the Tory party for a General Election before the Labour Party have found a solution to that problem.

The prospect of an early General Election, probably at short notice, lends an urgency to getting PPCs in place so there is time to do the things in the community and in the media that build support and trust. Those things take time, and are an alternative to deploying vast financial resources we don’t have.

But this is about more than just the next general election. An active PPC helps build the support that pays dividends in local and European elections. My own instinct is that PPCs will also have a key role in the campaign over the EU referendum, both pushing for a “Yes” result and helping “Yes” votes translate into support for the Liberal Democrats.

Now we have sorted our own leadership election there are plenty of reasons to be ready for a general election sooner than we think, and plenty to be gained by preparing well in advance.