The MP for Blackley and Broughton explains why Labour might have just made a ‘mistake of historic proportions’
On Wednesday 19 April, MPs overwhelmingly backed PM Theresa May’s call for a snap general election to be held on 8 June 2017.
During a surprise announcement on Monday, May - who had insisted on numerous previous occasions that there wouldn't be a general election until 2020 - U-turned, stating she aimed to secure a mandate before Brexit.
522 MPs backed the motion in the House of Commons on Wednesday, whilst just thirteen – nine of which were Labour – voted against (around 100 MPs, including SNP and 46 Labour MPs, abstained).
Of the thirteen, two were MPs of Greater Manchester constituencies: MP for Blackley and Broughton, Graham Stringer, and MP for Heywood and Middleton, Liz McInnes.
Here Mr Stringer – a former Leader of Manchester City Council (1984-1996) – lays out his reasons for voting against the snap election.
For the first time in British political history, the House of Commons, not the Prime Minster using prerogative powers, has called a general election.
The two-thirds of all MPs required under the Fixed Term Parliament Act to support the triggering of the election was easily achieved with virtually all Conservative MPs and a majority of Labour MPs in favour.
I, along with eight other Labour MPs, voted against, while 46 Labour MPs abstained. If all Labour MPs had abstained, or indeed voted against, the two-thirds threshold would not have been achieved and there would not be a general election. The Labour Party may have made a mistake of historic proportions.
It is necessary in a parliamentary democracy for oppositions to claim they are ready for government. To do otherwise would, in an objective sense, be a failure to be the opposition. It is the political equivalent of telling your partner that their backside doesn’t look ‘too big’ in a particular outfit. Telling a white lie shouldn’t lead you, or in this case a political party, to lose touch with reality. Opinion polls may be wrong by two or three points, but being twenty points behind clearly indicates that the electorate don’t consider the Labour Party ready to take over the running of the country.
The Prime Minster has called this election in the interests of the Conservative Party and not in the interest of the country. Having told Parliament and the country on seven occasions that she would not be calling an election, she has done. Theresa May is not to be trusted. This is a decision based purely on close reading of the opinion polls and nothing else.
The two reasons she gives for calling a snap election are bogus. She claims to need a larger majority to ensure that the referendum decision to leave the European Union is implemented. The Government has never had a majority of less than 30 on Brexit votes. This is a working majority by any definition. Secondly, she claims that the timetable for negotiating with the EU takes her too close to the next general election. This timetable has been known since before the referendum.
There is also the unstated potential political catastrophe for the Government that between 30 and 60 Conservative MPs are currently being investigated for electoral fraud. Theresa May failed to respond to Dennis Skinner (Labour MP for Bolsover since 1970) in the Commons when asked whether she would guarantee that no Tory MP, currently under investigation over election expenses in the last general election, would become a candidate in this general election. He called it ‘the most squalid election campaign’ in his lifetime and joined me in opposing the election.
While it is necessary for the Labour opposition to state they’re ready for government, it is not necessary for a Labour opposition to vote in order to help the Conservatives increase their majority. That is not part of our mission. The Conservatives want to make this general election solely about Brexit (the electorate having already decided upon this). The Labour Party should focus on the parlous state of our health, education and other public services, as well as the economy.
The government know there is bad news around the corner and this is their best opportunity to steal power for the next five years. We shouldn’t have aided them and must now do everything we can to stop them.
Graham Stringer MP
Graham Stringer is a regular columnist for Manchester Confidential. He is the Labour Member of Parliament for Blackley and Broughton with a majority of 22,982 after the 2015 election, up from 12,303 in 2010.
He was elected to Parliament in 1997 for the now abolished constituency of Manchester Blackley. Prior to this he was the Leader of Manchester City Council from 1984-1996. He is one of the few MPs to have scientific experience, as a professional analytical chemist. He is a member of The Science and Technology Committee at Westminster.