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Why are there concerns over a Labour ‘supermajority’? 

Taxes, immigration, Brexit, the cost-of-living crisis, the state of the NHS, education, social care and housing. There are plenty of issues swirling around the general election campaign to drum up either fear or new hope over. But another, unforeseen issue has been making headlines. It all started when Grant Shapps went on Times Radio. He started off with what has become a Tory mantra on claims Labour will raise taxes, but then he continued: “You don’t want to have somebody receive a supermajority.” It seemed as if he had unwittingly admitted defeat early on in the game, but the messaging hasn’t stopped. Robert Jenrick pushed the same message again recently on Sky News. “I’m here to deliver a warning to them that if they vote for anyone other than a Conservative at this General Election they risk, because of our electoral system, a supermajority of the Labour Party,” he said. Today Rishi Sunak is expected to say something similar again, in a speech where he warn voters “Once you have handed Keir Starmer and Labour a blank cheque, you won’t be able to get it back.” However bizarre it may seem that the Tories are trying to gain support not from their policies or 14 years in government, but to keep a historic Labour majority at bay, there is another strange side to this latest phenomenon. And that is – Labour are also warning against the prospect of it too. Why? Could a Labour super majority happen, and what would it mean? We’ll look, after the headlines.

 Today’s news, and why it matters

Rishi Sunak’s leadership has been called into question by senior Conservatives as he continues to resist pressure to suspend party figures embroiled in the election date betting scandal. The PM is facing growing calls to suspend those caught up in allegations they placed bets on the timing of the election before it was announced in public, which were described by one top Tory as a “disgrace”.

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The mother of missing teenager Jay Slater has said she is exhausted but “can’t give up on him” as she pleaded for him to come home. “The last few days have been awful,” she said, but vowed to stay on the island until he was found.


Three questions over a Labour ‘super majority’:

What are Labour saying? While one might assume that polls showing a potential Tory “annihilation” would have those in Labour HQ cheering, those in the party are reacting cautiously. “Don’t fall for it” was the message from a recent opinion piece by Labour’s Pat McFadden. “History tells us that Labour victories are rare,” he wrote. “Only three times in 100 years has Labour won a majority in parliament from opposition. No way is this election a done deal. The headlines about the clutch of MRP polls disguise a huge level of uncertainty.” A senior Labour official told i: “Obviously the state of the polls is going to affect the campaign. Our problem is convincing people that the election is not just all over. It reminds me of Brexit when people were told for weeks that Remain was going to win – and then Leave won, but the number of people who didn’t bother voting could have stopped that happening.” In a similar vein, the Tories are talking down their prospects is to persuade swing voters that they either don’t need to vote or to persuade voters they can afford to vote for one of the minor parties where the seat is a Labour/ Tory battle.  Read more here.  However polling expert Professor Sir John Curtice told the Times it may be an ineffective ploy: “It’s very difficult to persuade people to vote for you because you are concerned you won’t be an effective opposition,” he said.

Could it really happen? A supermajority is a term predominantly used in US or European politics, and some experts say it is “utterly meaningless” in a British context.  Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, told i: “It’s just a way of scaring wavering Conservatives back to the Tory fold on an assumption that a huge majority for Labour would allow them untrammelled power.” In theory, a British government with a majority of 10 MPs is no different from one with a majority of 100 MPs. Nicholas Allen, professor of politics at Royal Holloway, University of London, told i: “In the British system, a majority is a majority. As long as the government has a working majority of plus one, it can do what it likes.” Read the full piece here. 

Are there valid concerns over a big Labour majority? The key concern of a massive majority is scrutiny. A big majority means it is easier for goverment to pass laws in the Commons, and also the way seats are allocated on committees that examine legislation and the work of ministers. As Nigel Fletcher, at King’s College in London, points out for the Conversation: “If the Conservatives are reduced to tens of seats, they would also be unable to appoint a full shadow government, with their MPs having to cover a number of portfolios. Much more work would be likely to fall on Conservative peers in the House of Lords, where the party would (at least initially) enjoy a numerical advantage over Labour.” But those worried about scrutiny should be putting their questions to Labour, Hannah White writes for the Institute for Government. “It is the attitude that the next government takes to the role of parliament that will actually make the difference, however large the majority it secures,” she says. And as Isabel Hardman notes: “The past 14 years has taught us that it is very, very difficult to pursue some of the pressing reforms that this country needs with even a reasonable majority. Given we now have very serious and pressing crises in those areas, voters might be forgiven for thinking that a bit of big majority government might be a good thing for the country. The biggest question is how Starmer chooses to use his majority.” Read her full piece, here.  

(Photo: UK Parliament/AFP)

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 Watch out for…

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