To be strong abroad, you have to be strong at home. Over the coming days and weeks, there will be much speculation about the reasons underlying Theresa May’s sudden about-turn on a General Election, but – of all the factors which will have influenced her – this was probably the most important. Labour is weak, yes – but they have been weak for many months. Similarly, Theresa May is popular – but she has been throughout her extended honeymoon.
But for all her excellent polling numbers, Theresa May still possesses only a wafer-thin majority in the House of Commons, and the House of Lords was gearing up to make trouble. She has no personal mandate. Make no mistake, the next Parliamentary session was looking extremely problematic: there was an immense risk that the Great Repeal Bill – and all the other items of Brexit-related legislation which were set to be introduced – would be amended with impunity by the House of Lords, and that any rebellions would be backed up by a House of Commons over which her control is not absolute.
Any successful rebellion – over medicines regulation, over the application of the EU’s procurement regulations to the NHS, over the EU’s air pollution limits – would have bound the Government’s hands in its negotiation with the European Union in the most public way. To a Prime Minister who has made a great play of not wishing to concede anything in the Brexit negotiation for the fear of weakening her hand – even the rights of EU citizens currently in the UK – such a situation would have been untenable.
So in the hunt for a stable Parliamentary majority, and her absolute need for a mandate from the country for her own version of Brexit, Theresa May has rolled the dice and the country will have to vote once again. But although the decision seems like a no-brainer (the poll numbers still look good, after all), it is nonetheless a risk. The public may tire of repeated trips to the polling booths. Many of those Tory-Lib Dem marginals, which were won by David Cameron less than two years ago, may switch straight back. The electorate – having taken a risk with Brexit in 2016 only a year after playing it ‘safe’ by electing a Tory Government in 2015 – may continue to prove volatile.
And the Conservative Party is not ideologically united on whether a hard or soft Brexit should be pursued (the reason why Theresa May is concerned about her parliamentary numbers in the first place). Ultimately, the Conservatives’ desire to retain power may well keep a lid on internal disagreements during the campaign – but, the Conservative truce on Europe broke down spectacularly in the 1997 election and may do so again.
What is certain, after the last two years of politics worldwide, is that nothing should be taken for granted in the General Election of 8 June 2017.
What do the polls say?
Labour’s sudden policy blitz couldn’t have come sooner
Now an early General Election has been called, Incisive Health explores the prospects for the Labour Party.
Theresa May’s sudden change of heart on calling an early General Election has come as a Westminster. And yet, over the past week, it has felt like Labour was already in election mode.
Jeremy Corbyn used the Easter recess to announce a suite of media-friendly policy announcements that were popular with voters, created a dividing line with the government and addressed the criticisms that his party was weak on detail.
After a turbulent couple of years, Jeremy and his team have begun to understand the functions of an opposition and how to craft a message that they believe will be popular with voters. This past week will put them in good stead for the next couple of months.
However, the challenge facing Labour is stark. The polls over the weekend show the Conservative’s with a lead of more than 20 percentage points. Public trust in Jeremy Corbyn as a future Prime Minister is at an all-time low. Its platform on Brexit has not cut-through with the public. And many Labour MPs are expected to announce in the coming days that they will not fight this election.
At the start of this campaign, the question is not whether Labour will lose the General Election but by how much. Jeremy Corbyn’s job is to defy expectations and to convince the public, as he convinced Labour members two years ago, about why his style of leadership is right for the country. Jeremy effectively used the television hustings during the 2015 leadership contest to differentiate himself from others in the race. With the prospect of the television debates for the third election in a row, he now has the opportunity to do the same on the national stage.
The task facing Labour at this election is monumental. How it will fare remains to be seen.
What happens next?
Tomorrow, Tuesday 19th April, Theresa May will table a motion in the House of Commons calling for an early General Election.
If the motion is passed, as it is expected to do so, Parliament will likely dissolve six weeks before 8 June, which will be next Thursday 27th April.
Local and mayoral elections could now be held on the same day as the General Election.
The Queen’s Speech, expected in May, will also be postponed until after the General Election.