Premium

Why the timing of an election could be the difference between a huge Tory majority and a hung parliament

Corbyn and Johnson

Parliament is currently stuck in limbo. Boris Johnson's government is too weak to pass crucial legislation but his opponents have twice rejected his plea to end the impasse by backing a snap election.

By blocking an October election, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP believe that the Prime Minister now has no choice but to ask for an extension to Article 50 beyond the current 31 October deadline.

With Mr Johnson having secured his premiership on a "do or die" approach to leaving on this date, any further extension would be very damaging to his credibility and his electoral chances.

In fact, a delay of a few weeks in holding an election could be the difference between a thumping Tory majority and a hung parliament.

The reason for this lies in the volatility of the polls. So far this year three parties - the Brexit Party, Labour and the Conservatives - have led in the Telegraph's rolling polling average at some point, while back in June it looked as though we'd entered an era of four-party politics.

Since Mr Johnson's election as Tory leader, the Conservatives have managed to chip away at the Brexit Party's support, while Labour has been less successful at winning support away from the Lib Dems.

A poll from ICM and Represent Us at the end of last week showed that this situation could easily revert to how it was prior to Johnson taking over if the UK remains in the EU beyond October 31.

The poll asked respondents how they would vote if a general election were held tomorrow, with the Conservatives leading Labour by 37 per cent to 30 per cent.

This seven-point gap is on the low-end compared to other recent polls but would still hand the Conservatives 354 seats - a thumping majority by modern standards. Labour meanwhile would lose 40 seats in this scenario.

The poll also asked how people would vote in a general election if one were held after 31 October with the UK having failed to leave the EU.

The Conservatives' lead vanishes in this scenario, with ICM putting them neck and neck with Labour on 28 per cent and the Brexit party up at 18 per cent.

This would be electorally disastrous for Mr Johnson, with Electoral Calculus' calculator predicting that Labour might even become the biggest party in this scenario and no single party would be in touch of a Commons majority.

The figures show that the main reason for this turnaround would be Leave voters deserting the Conservatives and voting instead for Nigel Farage's Brexit Party - granting the new party 14 MPs.

While expecting a single poll to provide an exact prediction of how a general election will play out is flawed, it does illustrate the point that the timing of a snap election is crucial to the outcome - with a few weeks making all the difference. 

Brexiteers appear likely to lose patience with Mr Johnson if he fails to reach a Brexit conclusion by the end of next month. In fact, a poll from YouGov today shows that a 52 per cent of Leavers and 50 per cent Conservative voters would rather Mr Johnson broke the law than seek another Brexit extension.

In the coming weeks the Prime Minister will be trying to do all he can to avoid this fate - whether through securing a deal or taking legal action against the enforced extension.

Given that an election does seem extremely likely to come this year it is imperative for his electoral chances that Mr Johnson is able to preserve his status as a more decisive actor on the Brexit stage than his predecessor.

If he does this he is likely to carry many Leave voters with him. If he doesn't and has to seek an extension, then the opposition parties are likely to trigger a general election and - with a split Leave vote - a hung parliament could once again be on the cards.