Theresa May has said she wants to hold a snap general election on 8 June, despite repeatedly claiming that she was against the idea of an early vote.
In a surprise statement outside Downing Street on Tuesday morning, the prime minister claimed that opposition parties were jeopardising her government’s preparations for Brexit.
“We need a general election and we need one now,” she said. “I have only recently and reluctantly come to this conclusion but now I have concluded it is the only way to guarantee certainty for the years ahead.”
May claimed the decision she would put to voters in the election, the announcement of which was a tightly guarded secret known only by her closest aides, would be all about “leadership”.
The prime minister may have been swayed by recent polls that placed the Conservatives 21 points ahead of Labour despite a policy blitz by Jeremy Corbyn’s party. She will hope to boost a slim working majority of 17 in order to help pass both domestic and Brexit-linked legislation.
Oh yes, May (who only enjoys a slim parliamentary majority at present) has been swayed by Labour’s plight, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
If any of my competitors were drowning, I’d stick a hose in their mouth and turn on the water.
Whatever the polls may currently say, the heightened polarization of an election campaign will probably bring some Labour voters back into the fold. Even so, the party seems set to struggle. It’s not so much its policies (the electorate can be more radical than is often imagined) as the character of its leader that is Labour’s problem. Corbyn combines fanaticism and (short-term) ineffectiveness to a degree that is quite remarkable, even if we make proper allowance for a brain that generally struggles to keep up. Reasonably enough, voters don’t seem impressed.
The ‘centrist’ and unashamedly eurofundamentalist Liberal Democrats are likely to benefit from the votes of some pro-Remain Labour voters disillusioned by their party’s awkwardly ‘nuanced’ stance over Brexit. As a result, I’d expect their tally of seats to rise, perhaps considerably.Will the Lib Dems win over some pro-Remain Tories too? Possibly, but the difference these votes will make on the Lib Dems’ parliamentary result will depend on the right math in the right number of constituencies. It’s too early for now to guess how that will pan out.
UKIP, I suspect, busy feuding and deprived of much of its raison d’être by the Brexit vote, will fall far short of its performance in the 2015 General Election.
One set of results to watch will be in Scotland. With talk of a second referendum in the air, how well will the Scottish National Party fare?
Beyond the entirely understandable desire to boost her majority, May’s decision to go to the polls will have been prompted by the complex politics of Brexit. Regardless of what the British constitution (which is not presidential) may say, winning an election in her own right will boost May’s democratic credibility and thus her political authority through the tricky—and controversial—Brexit process. To a degree (although I wouldn’t overstate this) it may also strengthen her hand in the negotiations with the EU.
There’s also the little matter of the economic trouble that the prospect of ‘hard Brexit’ may provoke. Securing increased political authority might enable May (who was, after all, a lukewarm Remainer in the Brexit referendum) to opt for a slightly less drastic divorce from the EU, but, if she persists with anything like the hard Brexit that is currently envisioned, the British economy might start to look a little choppy (there are already some clouds in the sky) long before any approximation of a ‘final’ deal (that’s another discussion) was cut. That could mean political trouble for the Tories.
As things stood before this morning, the next election was set for 2020. If May wins now, she won’t have to face the electorate until 2022. Those extra two years could come in very handy indeed.