Those of you with long memories will recall that, just after he became Prime Minister in the summer of 2007, Gordon Brown seriously toyed with the idea of holding a snap general election that the opinion polls suggested he couldn't lose. Although legend has it that he took fright after David Cameron's well-received speech at the Tory party conference, it's likely that what actually played a bigger role in dissuading him was the publication of a poll showing that the Tories were faring significantly better in marginal seats that anyone had realised.
I wondered tonight if a similar turning-point had occurred with the publication of an Opinium poll showing a mammoth sixteen-point Tory lead, up three points on the equivalent poll last week. Labour MPs were already highly resistant to the idea of allowing a December election due to their deficit in the polls, but if that deficit is growing even wider, it may be psychologically impossible for Jeremy Corbyn to lead his troops through the Aye lobby on Monday.
But just when you thought it was safe to forget all about an election until next year, tonight brings news of a joint SNP-Lib Dem initiative to circumvent the two-thirds majority requirement in the Fixed Term Parliaments Act and bring about a December election regardless of whether Labour vote for one or not. I said in my previous post that the only way of breaking the deadlock might be for the three parties that appear to have something to gain from an immediate election - namely the SNP, the Tories and the Lib Dems - to reach an understanding between themselves, and it looks very much like that's what's been going on behind the scenes. Obviously there'll be no mention of Tory involvement to maintain plausible deniability on all sides, but the bottom line is that everyone knows this plan can only work with Tory acquiescence, and if Boris Johnson is serious about wanting a December vote, that acquiescence will surely be forthcoming.
Apparently Plan A is for the Liberal Democrats to attempt to amend the Fixed Term Parliaments Act to make provision for a general election on 9th December. That would only require a simple majority, so it should pass with Tory support. If for some reason it doesn't, Plan B would be for the SNP to table a motion of no confidence in the government under the existing terms of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, which would also only require a simple majority. Presumably the Tories would abstain, and the vote would pass if Labour don't actively vote against it. (It would surely be unthinkable for Labour to vote that they had confidence in a Tory government, even as a means of avoiding an election?) That would trigger a 14-day deadline for a government to emerge that can win a confidence vote, and if that doesn't happen, parliament would automatically be dissolved and an election would be triggered.
Ian Blackford is a great guy and has really grown into his job as SNP group leader, but I must confess to a wry smile when I realised that his solution to the terrible problems he identified with the "barking mad" proposed election date of 12th December is to hold the election three days earlier. Yes, it's true, folks, canvassers will no longer have to ponder with dread the prospect of pounding the dark streets of Inverness in the middle of winter, because they'll now have a whole five more minutes of daylight to play with on polling day than they would have had if Boris Johnson had got his way. The sun rises in Inverness at 8.45am on 9th December, compared to 8.49am on the 12th. The sun sets at 3.32pm on the 9th, compared to 3.31pm on the 12th. A game-changer by any standards.
So will this bold plan succeed? It's far from certain, but if it fails I suspect it'll be because either or both of the SNP and the Lib Dems get cold feet. I can't see the Tories standing in the way.