Isabel Hardman

Could we be heading for a Coupon election?

Could we be heading for a Coupon election?
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He might be the only MP to have accidentally posted a screenshot of emails about 'GE2019' on Instagram, but Damian Hinds is far from the only one spending their summer planning to fight in a poll later this year. All the parties are gearing up for a campaign. We've even had glimpses of how Boris Johnson would fight such an election, with today's ComRes poll for the Telegraph suggesting that 44 per cent of voters would back Boris Johnson if he suspended parliament to get Brexit done. There are quibbles about the way the questions were asked in this poll, but it's an important one because it chimes with the thinking in Downing Street about how to win a 2019 snap poll. Johnson will pitch himself as the man of the people fighting a recalcitrant parliament that's actively blocking Brexit.

This causes a number of problems for many MPs, not least those most openly opposed to Britain leaving. They'll have to work out how to counter what is consistently a low public esteem of MPs. Most parliamentarians already know from public meetings they've held in their seats that some voters are apoplectic at the delay in getting Britain out of the European Union. Many say they haven't seen people this angry since the expenses scandal a decade ago. With Theresa May gone, there is now just one focus for blame: the MPs.

Those with the toughest dilemma are the ones who've spoken out against the 'chaos' of a no-deal exit but somehow found themselves in the government all the same. The so-called 'Gaukeward squad' of Brexit-sceptic Tories spans the backbenches and cabinet, and they're holding meetings to try to work out what to do. So far, the members of the government have had a predictably tough ride, with Amber Rudd the latest to soften her warnings on what might happen in a no-deal scenario. She insisted to ITV News that she wasn't a 'sellout' after saying that it was merely 'very difficult to tell' what would happen to the economy if Britain left without a deal.

Far more difficult a question for the Gaukeward MPs to answer is how would they campaign in a general election? It might be that a Brexit-themed fight suits Boris Johnson, but it won't suit everyone in his divided party, and many will find it difficult to stand on the manifesto that the Conservatives publish. Some might quit parliament rather than fight again, but others are discussing the possibility of a modern 'coupon election', which would give them more freedom to do as they please. How this would work in practice - the 1918 Coalition Coupon was about continuing the wartime coalition government, and those who didn't receive a Coupon endorsing them were painted as unpatriotic or anti-war - isn't clear, not least because pro-Brexit MPs from across the House may benefit more than their Remain colleagues. Either way, the battle of the autumn will be over who is most on the side of the British people, and that's going to be very awkward for the Gaukewards.