Why Has Theresa May Called An Early Election?
The Debrief: And what does it mean?
When Theresa May went up against the likes of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove to become Prime Minister in the wake of Brexit there was one phrase that was used over and over again to describe her: ‘a safe pair of hands’.
May, as Prime Minister, wouldn’t rock the boat, take risks or surprise people. No, she’d steady the good ship Brexit. However, the reality of May’s time as Prime Minister has revealed that she is in fact, somewhat unpredictable and something of a risk taker. This has been cemented today by her surprise announcement that there will be a snap general election on June 8th.
The Prime Minister was adamant that she did not want a vote on Article 50, for instance, and only conceded to allow one after her hand was forced by the high court. She has denied Scotland a referendum on being part of the UK, despite the political ramifications of doing so. She has also repeatedly insisted that there would not be a snap general election on her watch.
Before officially taking the role of Prime Minister May said that, under her leadership, there would be no early election. The promise was part of her leadership bid, in which she said that the next election would be in 2020 as planned.
Part of May’s (convincing) argument against an early election was the idea that this country has faced enough upheaval, uncertainty and instability as a result of the referendum. In her Christmas message, she said ‘of course, the referendum laid bare some further divisions in our country – between those who are prospering, and those who are not…those for whom our country works well, and those for whom it does not’, implying that anything which would further ignite tension and enforce separations was not on the table. Indeed, just last month, Downing Street responded to calls for May to hold an early election by telling The Telegraph ‘it’s not going to happen. It’s not something she plans to do or wishes to do.’
And then, this morning, in an unexpected press conference an early election was announced. Call it a U-turn if you will. So, what’s changed? Could it be that Theresa May thinks she has more to gain than she has to lose from fighting a general election?
The charge that May’s government has no mandate, having been formed in the wake of the EU referendum without a public vote, has been levelled at her by those who oppose Brexit. If she were to win and increase her majority in the forthcoming election that would invalidate this line of argument for good. It’s also rather convenient timing in the sense that there is currently an enquiry into expenses from the 2015 general election hanging over the Tory party.
Election could put CPS in difficulty over whether to prosecute MPs & agents over 2015 election expenses. Deadlines late May, early June!— Michael Crick (@MichaelLCrick) April 18, 2017
As things stand, the Conservatives are way ahead of Labour in opinion polls. A recent YouGov poll asked people ‘if there was a general election tomorrow, which party would you vote for?’, 44% of people said Conservative, 23% said Labour, 12% said Lib Dem and 10% said UKIP. And, while polls can be unreliable, there’s no doubt that the general consensus is that there isn’t a political force capable of arguing against May.
The millennial vote could swing this election. It’s well documented that the 18-24 demographic are historically bad at turning out to vote if they can be mobilised this time around then the results could be interesting. In a recent survey, three quarters of The Debrief’s visitors rated politics as being very relevant to them, an increase since 2016 when 59% said they thought it was relevant. Indeed, when it comes to part politics we found that just over half of Debrief readers are Labour supporters, which has remained consistent over the last few years. The number of Debrief readers who support the Conservatives has decreased by over half, while the number who support the Lib Dems has increased.
It made sense for May to deny that she would consider an early election and downplay the issue until now. She has placated eurosceptics, made UKIP look irrelevant and repeated her ‘Brexit means Brexit’ mantra on a loop in order to show her commitment to ‘the will of the people’ for months now, Article 50 has been triggered and an early election no longer undermines her position as Britain’s (unelected) Prime Minister as it would have done before.
In her announcement, May suggested that silencing her critics was part of the motivation behind her decision:
‘The country is coming together, but Westminster is not. In recent weeks Labour has threatened to vote against the deal we reach with the European Union. The Liberal standstill. The Scottish National Party say they will vote against the legislation that formally repeals Britain's membership of the European Union. And unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way. Our opponents believe that because the Government's majority is so small, our resolve will weaken and that they can force us to change course. They are wrong.’
May and her Government deny that she has broken her promise not to call an early election and say that a vote is now ‘in the national interest’ because the opposition seeks to undermine the Prime Minister as she attempts to negotiate with the EU over Brexit. On the other hand, isn’t it the job of the opposition to hold the government to account?
Speaking on Radio 4’s World At One Programme Brexit Secretary, David Davis, said ‘I do the negotiation and it does undermine what we are trying to do.’ He added: ‘this is about getting a mandate from the British people to deliver the best possible outcome. It is not just about delivering Brexit, it is also about delivering the other aspects of her prime ministership which she was not elected for.’
If the last year in politics has taught us anything it’s that elections are liable to blindside us. However, if May were to increase her majority then she would be in a very strong position. But if Labour did edge ahead, or form a coalition with the resurgent Lib Dems then the game could completely change. The question is whether either party is up to the challenge…
As the announcement took place, Nigel Farage appeared to be, quite literally, at sea which, perhaps, was also a factor in deciding when to release the news…
Had a great time catching Bluefin Tuna in the Adriatic Sea this weekend. pic.twitter.com/POyJBBg2rp— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) April 18, 2017
Jeremy Corbyn has released the following statement:
‘I welcome the Prime Minister’s decision to give the British people the chance to vote for a government that will put the interests of the majority first.’
You can register to vote here
You might also be interested in:
Follow Vicky on Twitter @Victoria_Spratt
At work? With your gran?
You might want to think about the fact you're about to read something that wouldn't exactly get a PG rating