At 11.05am today Prime Minister Theresa May announced that there will be an early UK General Election on Thursday June 8th. In a political speech which marked the start of the campaign , she criticised the other parties in the context of their stance on Brexit: “If we do not hold a general election now, their political game playing will continue” she said.
The election requires a motion in the House of Commons to be passed by a two thirds majority. That motion will be tabled tomorrow. The Labour Party alone could block the motion but May has clearly calculated that they won’t want to be accused of running scared. The current Tory lead over Labour stands at 18 points which if that was repeated in the vote would deliver a Tory landslide.
The petition calling to “Prevent Donald Trump from making a State Visit to the United Kingdom” passed a million signatures at 9.54am today (30 January 2017). It gained a million supporters in less than 24 hours and is the 2nd quickest ever on the UK Government and Petitions website to hit gain a million supporters after the Brexit 2nd referendum petition, which eventually gained over 4 million backers.
A debate in parliament is triggered when any petition reaches 100,000 so a debate in Westminster Hall at least, is already guaranteed. It will be much more difficult for the government to dismiss this public plea however, compared with Brexit petition. There will be calls from opposition parties for the debate to be held in the House of Commons.
Firstly there’s been no referendum on the Trump visit. More significantly the government will have to weigh up the advantages of a state visit compared to the likelihood that many of those who have put their names to the petition will make a more public protest if Trump sets foot on British soil. The invitation was intended as a cornerstone of the special relationship. Given Trump’s apparent thin skin, it seems likely that a visit plagued by public protest would do demolish and deals with the US government than to shore them up.
The government is expected to confirm details of the parliamentary debate by tomorrow.
Tonight at 9.30pm on BBC2 a new television documentary, ‘Inside the Commons’ reveals behind the scenes parts of Parliament never seen by the public.
The Palace of Westminster has 1,000 rooms and three miles of corridors and is often referred to by insiders as Hogwarts. Seasoned veteran Liberal Democrat Charles Kennedy admits to still getting lost in the building. The four part series goes onto the floor of the Commons chamber, allowing viewers to see exactly what MPs see during debates.
It took six years to persuade the authorities before they agreed to the series. David Cameron talks about his dread of Prime Minister’s Questions; “there isn’t a Wednesday that you don’t feel total fear and trepidation about what is about to happen. I think prime ministers have always felt that.”
There was opposition to the documentary from some MPs who have a “general hatred of the media” in the wake of the expenses scandal, and who made it clear they were against the project.
Sir Robert Rogers, the Commons clerk and chief executive (who resigned in 2014) deals with the the need to conserve the building and at the same time bringing its facilities, including communications technology into the 21st Century. “We’re trying to run a modern parliament in a Victorian building.”
The first episode of Inside the Commons is on BBC Two at 9pm on Tuesday 3 February and runs for four weeks.