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10 September 2019

Who will be disadvantaged by the UK’s longest ever election campaign?

By not sending the country to the polls until at least November, all political parties are making a gamble – some bigger than others.

By Stephen Bush

I sure hope Nuneaton is nice in November. MPs have again declined Boris Johnson’s request for an early election. This, thanks to Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament until 14 October, and the accompanying time taken by the start of a new session and the debate on a Queen’s Speech, means that the absolute earliest date for an election, due to the 25 working days required by British law, is 22 November.

This means that Labour, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and Caroline Lucas have decided to bet heavily that a very, very, very, very long election campaign –  because, let’s face it, that’s what the next three and a bit months will be – with unrestricted spending and no election-period broadcast rules, will not disadvantage them.

Opponents of no deal are taking a double risk. They’re hoping that Johnson’s slight rhetorical shift on the Irish Sea doesn’t lead to a deal that is essentially identical to the EU’s original proposal of a Canadian-style relationship for Great Britain and a separate customs and regulatory zone for Northern Ireland, and that Downing Street doesn’t find some mechanism or device to frustrate the legal request for an extension.

You can see the downsides of that bet from a Liberal Democrat perspective playing out already. Today’s broadcast coverage, which talks almost exclusively of the decision not to hold an election as if it were solely in the gift of our two big political parties, when the Liberal Democrats now have sufficient numbers in the Commons and the Lords to assist Johnson in the passage of a one-line bill to put aside the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act and schedule an election for 14 October, should they so choose.

But the Lib Dems will hope that their looming conference and the potential of more defectors will keep them in the news over the next two months of campaigning.

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For Corbyn, the risks haven’t yet manifested themselves, but they remain real. There’s the possibility that the political question will shift away from stopping prorogation, a subject on which Labour are united, and towards Brexit, a subject on which Labour are divided.

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But still, the die is cast now: get ready for the United Kingdom’s longest ever election campaign.