Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Referendum Isn't About Boris - And It Would Take Him Time To Return Anyway

Among all the noise of the Scottish independence referendum, there is one issue that crops up sometimes - with today's Sunday Times suggesting that there are Conservatives who feel David Cameron would have to resign as Prime Minister if the Scotland votes to leave (£).

That, to be blunt, would make their day, and it is a shame that people on both sides of the debate see it as being about short-term things, especially when politicians who are from the Conservative and Unionist party are rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of around 40 fewer Labour MPs, or a Prime Minister ousted and someone to their liking taking over.

Another senior backbencher said: “It’s a golden opportunity for a lot of people who hate Cameron and are just looking for an opportunity to get rid of him. There will be a push to topple him and get in a caretaker government. Today walking around the lobbies the grumpy discontents are very excited about the idea. The Boris campaign is quite excited about the idea. All the usual suspects will gather and circle.”

The plotters want the MP John Randall to stand down and force a by-election in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat so Boris Johnson can return to the Commons to take over as leader. Those plans are rejected by Johnson’s allies, who say that any move against Cameron would be “a disaster for Boris”.

Here we go again - let's bring the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, into it. People can make these grand schemes and plans as if constituencies and voters are simply pieces to be shoved around as if it's a board game. But that ignores voters.

But suppose that these unnamed plotters get their way. On the morning of Friday, 19 September, a Returning Officer announces that Scotland has voted for independence, and - as the plotters hope for - John Randall resigns as MP for Uxbridge & South Ruislip. To make the timetable as quick as possible, assume he resigns that day.

The first step would be for Michael Gove, the Chief Whip, to arrange for the writ to be issued. To do this, Parliament would have to be sitting - but it rises for the Conference Recess next Friday (12 September), returning on Monday 13 October. So, the earliest day that Gove can have the writ issued is 13 October. And there is the Clacton by-election to get out the way before that, so the Conservatives might not be enthusiastic about another by-election.

The current timetable was part of the Electoral Registration & Administration Act 2013, and was brought into effect earlier this year via the Electoral Registration & Administration Act 2013 (Commencement No. 5 & Transitory Provisions) Order 2014. This amended the relevant Schedule of the Representation of the People Act 1983 that dealt with election timetables.

Once you do the calculations, you get the by-election somewhere between Day 21 and Day 27 of the process, where the writ is issued on Day 0. The 1983 Act defines what is meant by a Day for the calculation purpose (this was amended by the Electoral Administration Act 2006, but as this deals with Maundy Thursday it need not concern us).

So, let's look at the timetable:

Day(s) Number(s) Dates
Days 0 - 4 Monday 13 - Friday 17 October
Days 5 - 9 Monday 20 - Friday 24 October
Days 10 - 14 Monday 27 - Friday 31 October
Days 15 - 19 Monday 3 - Friday 7 November
Day 20 Monday 10 November
Day 21 Tuesday 11 November
Day 22 Wednesday 12 November
Day 23 Thursday 13 November

So, the earliest date for an Uxbridge & South Ruislip by-election would be 13 November.

I have looked previously at the rules for electing Conservative leaders. Suppose Cameron does, as early as 19 September, resign as Conservative leader. Then the rules come into play, with Graham Brady, the MP for Altrincham & Sale West, the Returning Officer due to being Chairman of the 1922 Committee.

The contest has to be held "as soon as practicable" and nominations close "at Noon on a Thursday". In theory, Brady could set this closing date as early as 25 September - and at this point it is too soon for Johnson to be a candidate.

The Conservative Party Conference is from 28 September to 1 October. As exhaustative ballots are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays, then if there is more than one candidate, then MPs would be voting while the Conference is still happening. So a more reasonable assumption would be holding off the close of nominations until the Thursday after the conference, which would be 2 October. Then there would be a set of ballots on 7 October, 9 October, 14 October, 16 October etc. until MPs have whittled these down to 2 candidates for the membership to decide on. This could be as early as 7 October - again, way before Johnson could return to Parliament.

There are no hard and fast rules as to when the ballot of members would be - if we look at the October - December 2005 leadership election then we have 47 days between the MPs deciding on who the 2 final candidates will be and the announcement of the result. A similar timescale would bring us to Sunday 23 November.

I think the Sunday Times suggestion belongs alongside the Daily Mail in the pile of breathless journalism that collapses once you think about it.

No comments:

Post a Comment