I confess I did wonder; when news broke this morning that Theresa May was going to make ‘an announcement’ without any prior warning of the announcement’s contents (a highly unusual step), the thought crossed my mind that the PM might be calling a snap General Election, despite repeated denials she would contradict the Fixed Parliaments Act and send the nation to the polls before the set date of 2020. Lo and behold, Mrs May’s ‘lectern moment’ outside No.10 did indeed confirm these suspicions. Bar the technical necessity of asking Parliament’s permission tomorrow, a General Election has been called for 8 June.
Prime Ministers rarely call an Election when their term in office still has plenty of time to run; John Major, probably convinced he’d lose in 1997, left it until the last minute; Gordon Brown did likewise in 2010. Whereas an Election every four years had been established as the norm, both men chose to push their administrations to the five-year limit, desperate to cling on to power in the anticipation of defeat. Since 2010, of course, five years has now been enshrined in law and Theresa May seemed set to adhere to this rule. But, lest we forget, she inherited a mandate from her predecessor, who walked the plank barely a year after winning outright; she also inherited his far-from impressive majority. Hanging on for another three years appeared a bit silly, especially when current polls have the Tories fifteen-twenty points ahead of Labour. Why not go for it?
Of course, these are not ‘normal’ times and this will inevitably be seen as ‘the Brexit General Election’, but this has been a remarkable few years for the electorate – 2014: The Scottish Independence Referendum; 2015: The General Election; 2016: The EU Referendum; and now, 2017: The General Election. With the SNP demanding another independence referendum, Northern Ireland’s Executive in disarray, and Article 50 having just been triggered amidst ongoing Brexit divisions, I suppose the only comparable scenario in living memory that springs to mind is the similarly uncertain era of the mid-70s.
In the wake of the Three-Day Week in February 1974, when Ted Heath called a snap General Election after just three-and-a-half years in office, it was a gamble he lost; confronted by a country seemingly held hostage by powerful unions (particularly the miners), Sailor Ted figured the electorate would echo his intentions, but it didn’t, and his nemesis Harold Wilson returned to power. However, Labour’s tiny majority led to a second General Election in October the same year, when Heath again suffered defeat. Two General Elections in 1974 were then followed by the EEC Referendum in June 1975. After all that breathless action (and a fair amount of voter fatigue), it was then another four years before the hustings were occupied again.
Some could view Theresa May’s decision as a similar gamble to that taken by Heath 43 years ago. Whilst her party’s points lead over Labour is unparalleled since Margaret Thatcher took on Michael Foot, May has so far been seen as something of a ditherer and her decision today is a U-turn on her stated stance re the Fixed Parliaments Act. There is also a surprise element relating to the fact that the controversial constituency boundary changes, which will hugely benefit the Conservatives, won’t come into effect until October, something that would have been to her advantage had she held out till the autumn. Moreover, not every Tory is happy with May’s Brexit approach, so her party is not necessarily as united as she’d like us to believe.
Prime Ministers who take office following the resignation of their predecessor are usually presented with the tricky option of either serving out their predecessor’s term and hoping they can strengthen the previous mandate when the time comes or capitalising on their ‘honeymoon period’ by going for a snap Election and guaranteeing a full term for themselves in their own right. When Harold MacMillan succeeded the disgraced Anthony Eden in 1957, he hung on for over two-and-a-half years before calling an Election, which he won; Alec Douglas-Home waited a year after MacMillan’s departure – and lost.
Infamously, Jim Callaghan waited three years after taking over from Harold Wilson and paid the price. Most pundits reckon had he called a General Election in the autumn of 1978, he’d have won it; he delayed the decision till the following spring, by which time the nation had endured the Winter of Discontent, and handed victory to Thatcher. Gordon Brown might have clinched it had he done likewise when he experienced his only moment of popularity after superseding Tony Blair, but he too dithered, the Credit Crunch hit, and Brown never recovered. It’s rarely an easy choice.
Two-thirds of MPs are needed to seal Theresa May’s intentions for 8 June, but Jeremy Corbyn has indicated the Labour Party will support her decision. It goes without saying that some in Labour are eager for this Election because they feel their party will be annihilated at the polls, a disaster they can then hold Jezza wholly responsible for and finally oust him. On the other hand, the Corbynistas believe their man can do no wrong and are unswerving in their conviction that he can defeat the Tories, possibly by joining with the remnants of the Lib Dems (not that this would significantly boost their numbers, mind). Scotland obviously doesn’t figure in this wildly optimistic scenario.
So, here we go again, sooner than most of us reckoned, but in these turbulent times for the nation, perhaps apt. I thought the country would vote Remain and I couldn’t foresee Donald Trump becoming President, so I shan’t be making any rash predictions this time. Mind you, I’d be extremely surprised at any other result than a Conservative landslide. I hope I’m wrong (again).
© The Editor
5 thoughts on “SNAP!”
There’s little doubt that behind Mrs May’s call lies the cynical opportunism we have come to expect from all our politicians. With a 20% lead in the polls and a disjointed opposition in complete disarray, it would seem very difficult to lose – but that’s what Cameron thought about the referendum and what Clinton thought about the White House job. We live in interesting times.
However, given the state of the parties and the dominance which Brexit will enjoy in the campaign, Mrs May will now be confident of substantial ‘prodigal’ UKIP voters returning to their normal ‘family’ whilst, at the same time, acquiring many pro-Brexit Labour voters who would previously never have voted Tory. And, although she never actively plays on it, she will also acquire greater numbers of female voters just because she’s a woman, in the same way that Obama acquired 93% of black voters just because he was black – it may not be pure politics, but that’s reality.
I suspect the polls may be right in this case and that Mrs May will be returned with a more substantial majority to support her immediate needs. That being the case, I also suspect that the focus on Brexit thereafter will preclude any more dramatic shifts for the remainder of her term, by which time Corbyn will be ancient history, the Labour Party should have started to rediscover the ways of winning votes and a more normal form of politics will return, in our then post-Brexit state, sometime around 2022.
The tectonic plates will have shifted but, once stabilised again, we may then anticipate a return to our new version of normality – today’s announcement is merely a necessary first step along that road.
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“Mind you, I’d be extremely surprised at any other result than a Conservative landslide. I hope I’m wrong (again).”
Ditto on both points.
I think there is a slight chance it won’t be as big of a landslide as some are predicting, given that the Tory Parliamentary party (and possibly even the Cabinet) is divided on Brexit. That may be clutching at straws, granted.
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I’m guessing May is hoping to silence her Tory critics and force the party to back her policies (what are they, by the way?). However, calling an election seems an unnecessary diversion from the monumental task of laying the groundwork for Brexit. Coincidentally, it also creates a diversion from the ongoing investigation into the Tory party’s election expenses. Will the CPS be pressured to drop that?
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I think, as Mudplugger says, it’s hard not to view this decision as a cynical move on the part of the PM, whatever reasons she gave yesterday. Having said that, it makes perfect sense from her perspective, given the Tory lead in the polls. And, as you point out, it serves as a distraction from ‘other issues’ via the blanket coverage the campaign will receive over the next six weeks.
My fervent hope is that she crashes and burns into a cesspit of Conservative shit and she is swallowed whole by the blowback, never to be seen again. That is a metaphor, of course.
I shall be working to make sure the past 7 years of unnecessary austerity, and the Brexit inspired austerity to come (or at least, Brexit will be the excuse for it) are a noose around every potential Conservative MP’s neck (another metaphor, in case there are any members of HMG reading this who feel “threatened” by such things).
I too expect to be unsuccessful, but if you give up fighting, the bastards have already won.
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