Yesterday Theresa May made an official statement saying that, on 8th June, the government would hold a snap election to gain a mandate for the upcoming Brexit negotiations. Earlier this afternoon the motion was passed by Parliament, meaning that there will be a general election in the summer.
The calling of an election came somewhat out of the blue, especially seeing as Theresa May has categorically ruled out a snap election on several occasions, saying “I think it’s right that the next election is in 2020. This isn’t about political games, it’s about what’s right for the country.” Cynics might argue that it was never going to be about what was right for the country, and that the decision to call an election has been made because May feels she can significantly increase her majority in the House of Commons. May’s U-turn is said to have been triggered because a 2020 General Election would have required campaigns to start in 2019 – something which would overlap with the end of the two year period for Brexit negotiations with the EU. The worry is that having an election so soon after Brexit negotiations would give the EU an advantage as they would know that May would need to avoid politically unpopular aspects of the agreements if she was to be re-elected, giving the EU nations leverage. Therefore, from May’s point of view, it makes sense to call an election before talks begin so that that particular complication is removed from the negotiations.
However, it is also possible to argue that May simply wants to remain in power for as long as possible so has called the election while the Opposition is as weak as possible. Certainly, Jeremy Corbyn has next to no chance of challenging the Conservatives so the 2017 election is likely to be a foregone conclusion. I was actually fairly surprised that Corbyn supported the holding of a general election as it seems perfectly evident to everybody on the outside that May is certain to be elected, and that most Labour MPs are likely to lose their seats, which would surely make Corbyn’s position as leader even more untenable than it already is. However, the Labour leader decided that his party would vote with the government, seeing the election as an opportunity to get his party to unite behind his leadership. I am dubious as to how likely this is, and feel that if – and when – Corbyn is defeated it will spell the end of his time as leader.
The other obvious reason for why May has called the election is that she is currently enjoying relative success and is wanting to reaffirm her mandate before any unsuspected events can reduce her popularity. It is very possible that she is looking to avoid the same fate as Gordon Brown, who failed to call an election when he took over from Tony Blair even though he probably would have won, and ended up being blamed for the 2007 financial crisis, having previously been Chancellor of the Exchequer. If May can book her place in Downing Street for the next five years she will be insured against any unusual events which could come up between now and 2020 which could otherwise have led to her losing the next election, something which cannot be ruled out considering the unpredictable nature of politics in the last couple of years. Although May said she had come to the decision to hold the election reluctantly, I doubt she is reluctant at all and is probably only too happy to secure her place as Prime Minister for another five years.
Several Labour MPs rebelled against their party and voted against holding an election as they felt that Labour stood no chance of being elected so would rather not risk their jobs in an election, and some are even stepping down and not bothering to run for re-election, such is their lack of confidence in Corbyn. The Labour MPs stepping down include Alan Johnson, Tom Blenkinsop, and Pat Glass, and I would question whether any of them would have stepped down if they felt Corbyn had a realistic chance of being elected. It is difficult to see Labour making any kind of real challenge so one would assume that the Conservatives will be making substantial gains, continuing on from their historic victory in the Copeland by-election. The view being taken by the majority of the other parties seems to be ‘vote for us to stop the Conservatives’, showing that the other parties are keen to cement themselves as the viable alternatives to the Tories.
Theresa May has come out and said that the 2017 election is going to be a ‘Brexit election’, so one would expect the Lib Dems to come at the issue from the point of view of trying to prevent Brexit. Tim Farron has been outspoken on his view that the EU Referendum was simply advisory and clearly wants his party to be the champions of the staunch Remainers. This could be a good opportunity for the Lib Dems to recover from their crushing defeat at the 2015 election by winning back some of the seats from Labour. They could also be popular in areas which did not vote for Brexit, such as Richmond Park where they won a by-election in December 2016 when Brexit was said to be the salient issue. Most parties will aim to secure themselves as the obvious choice for Labour voters who have become disillusioned with their party, and with the added bonus of those who are still in favour of Britain staying in the European Union, the election seems to have been timed perfectly for the Liberal Democrats. I would even say there is a chance that the Lib Dems could challenge Labour as the second largest party so, although they are unlikely to win, Tim Farron has a big chance to re-establish his party.
The SNP are also taking the position that they are the only viable alternative to the Conservatives and Nicola Sturgeon is aiming to prevent the ‘hard Brexit’ being pushed by the Tories. It would not surprise me if the SNP included something about holding a second Scottish Independence Referendum in their manifesto, although the election surely puts paid to any hopes of the referendum taking place before Britain leaves the EU. The SNP may not enjoy as much success in 2017 as they did in 2015 as, with 56 of the 59 constituencies in Scotland currently having a SNP representative, they have not left themselves much room for improvement, and the Conservatives are said to be close to winning a few SNP seats in Scotland. I would expect the SNP to lose a couple of seats to the Conservatives but they are still very likely to get the vast majority of the seats in Scotland.
The 2017 snap election has taken almost everybody by surprise, but there are clear reason for Theresa May having called it: mainly because she sees an opportunity to strengthen her mandate while there is no functioning opposition to the Conservatives. However, there is also some sense in wanting to distance the next election from the Brexit talks and it does seem to be a sensible thing to do. As far as how the election will turn out, I’m expecting the Conservatives to come out as clear winners and for May’s majority to be greatly increased, while Labour will lose out heavily, leading to Jeremy Corbyn’s tenure as leader finally coming to an end. Meanwhile, the SNP could also lose a couple of seats to the Conservatives, although they will be still be Scotland’s main party by a long way, while the Lib Dems could make up some ground on Labour and take a huge step towards recovering from their embarrassment in 2015.
Having said all that, nobody has been able to predict the outcomes of recent political votes so it is very possible that my predictions will turn out to be completely wrong, and there is still plenty of time for things to happen between now and the 8th June, so there could be a very different state of play by the time the vote comes around. However, for now, my money is on a convincing Conservative win.