“Guess what we’re doing on 8th June 2017?” I asked.
“I dunno,” said the love of my life, busy with her coursework.
“Having a general election.”
Theresa May today announced (following a cabinet meeting) that she would hold a “snap general election” on 8th June 2017.
If you want to read her claimed reasons for doing so, her full statement is available.
But here’s what I think are the reasons for her to have a general election even though she had repeatedly said she wouldn’t.
There are three possible results for the general election as far as Theresa May is concerned:
(1) The Tories gain an increased majority from their current 20 votes, giving Theresa May a stronger hand in negotiating Brexit with her own party. The smaller the majority, the more likely Tories are to rebel.
(2) The Tories keep their thin majority, leaving the party no better off than before for internal negotiations with their fringes, but giving May a better chance of survival as party leader after March 2019.
(3) The Tories lose their majority, and whoever is leading the party after that, it’s no longer Theresa May’s problem.
First: The Tory leadership election after David Cameron’s resignation was not exactly a challenging contest. Of the five candidates, Theresa May, Andrea Leadsom, Michael Gove, Stephen Crabb, Liam Fox, it was clear from the beginning that May was the best of a bad bunch.
Michael Gove was eliminated almost immediately: Liam Fox was better known as the disgraced former defence secretary, Dr Liam Fox. Stephen Crabb and Andrea Leadsom were lightweights. Once Gove had been eliminated, Crabb, Fox, and Leadsom one by one withdrew, leaving Theresa May unopposed.
My own thinking is that for most Tory MPs, whoever had become Prime Minister in the wake of David Cameron’s cowardly resignation on 24th June 2016, their job would be to shepherd the UK out of the EU and then get the sack well before the 2020 general election.
The UK is leaving the EU for a variety of reasons, none of them good. Theresa May would have done the job for the Tory party, and could then be removed from power, a more heavyweight (and probably male) candidate replace her, and the Tories would then have blamed all of the problems of Brexit that the Tory government was indubitably responsible for, on Theresa May, the ex-PM.
I think it all too possible that Theresa May had come to realise this, too. That she was never intended to make a success of Brexit (which was never possible): she was intended to take the blame for it. That after 29th March 2019, her fellow Tory MPs intended for her to be made to quit as PM before she could fight a general election.
Which would make this upcoming general election just as much a matter of internal Tory politics as the EU referendum was – and just as consequential for all our futures.
Second: This general election will be fought on Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn is leader of the Labour party and Corbyn has committed the Labour Party to be the other party of Brexit. Labour MPs are mutinous and rebelling: Labour Party members, overwhelmingly Remain, are bewildered and angry: by May 2020, the Labour Party might have resolved their difficulties one way or another, but in June 2017, they are right in the middle of them, and this is excellent for the Conservatives.
Third: This neatly and rather abruptly cuts into the investigations into electoral fraud allegedly committed by the Conservatives in the May 2015 election. They’ve already been fined £70,000 for overspending: files have been passed to the Crown Prosecution Service: but a new general election may lose public interest in the issue and will at least delay any prosecutions until after June.
Party manifestos for GE 2017
Greens will fight the general election on a “Revoke Article 50 and stop Brexit” platform. (As will Scottish Greens, with added “and if you don’t, we want our independence referendum before 2019”.)
LibDems will fight the general election on a “Revoke Article 50 and stop Brexit” platform. (But run the strong risk that people just won’t believe them – that they’ll go into coalition with the Tories if LibDems do well and the Tories don’t have a majority.)
Tories will fight the general election on a “Brexit is the right thing and we’re going ahead with it” platform. And ignore any mean comments about u-turns.
Woman who said she wouldn't call a general election asks nation to trust what she says as she calls a general election.
— HaveIGotNewsForYou (@haveigotnews) April 18, 2017
The SNP will fight the general election on a “Revoke Article 50 and stop Brexit, and if you don’t, we want our independence referendum before 2019” platform.
Labour will fight the general election on a “Brexit is only the right thing if it comes with the following conditions and we’ll revoke article 50 if it doesn’t” platform.
Advantages on 8th June
Greens have the advantage that they’ve been consistent, honest, and principled. This isn’t much of an advantage in British politics, but such as it is, they have it. Their policies are sound and thoughtful, their MEPs and MSPs principled and dedicated, they have more MPs than UKIP… but I bet the BBC still pretends they don’t exist.
LibDems have the advantage that in many constituencies where it’s a choice between LibDem and Tory, and the LibDems say they’re definitely realio trulio no you can trust us this time to stick to our principles and vote Remain, many people will hold their noses and vote LibDem. The Tories could lose some seats to this strategy. And I don’t say they’d be wrong: I’m sarcastic about it, but I think the key thing in this general election is going to be strategic voting to keep the Tories (and UKIP) out.
Tories have the advantage that they’re rich, they’ve still not been faced with criminal charges for the overspending in 2015, and if you’re a Leave voter, you can trust that they really are going to take the country out of the EU: not least, because they’ve already voted for Article 50 and the Great Repeal Bill.
UKIP have no advantages that I can think of. Their one big policy has been taken over by the Conservatives, and their most recognisable face has been even busier sucking up to Donald Trump and making plans to leave the UK. Will Nigel Farage try to win Thanet South, again? No, wait, they have one major advantage that the Greens do not have: the BBC’s willingness to pretend that UKIP are a serious party.
Labour have the advantage that their policies are actually popular. Their disadvantage is that their opposition to Brexit is tenuous, nuanced, conditional: they will please neither passionate Leave voters nor passionate Remain voters. They have the added disadvantage in Scotland of having to compete against the Tories by promoting their opposition to hard Brexit, and against the SNP by promoting their opposition to the independence referendum. (I can’t support Jeremy Corbyn on Brexit: but the Labour MPs who have consistently failed to support him and tried to unseat him as leader, are each one equally to blame with Corbyn for the current parlous state of the Labour Party.)
The SNP have the advantage of winning either way. They will, again, take a majority of the constituencies in Scotland. They will, by this, have won a democratic mandate for an independence referendum. If by some unlikely chance Article 50 was revoked, one reason might be that the SNP have made the break-up of the UK a certainty of Brexit.
In Northern Ireland: it’s going to be interesting, and I mean that for all senses of “interesting”, because Sinn Fein are going to campaign both against Brexit – which would end the Good Friday Agreement – and for a united Ireland if Brexit goes ahead. But as Sinn Fein MPs don’t sit in the House of Commons, the more Sinn Fein MPs who win seats, the smaller the number of MPs needed for a working majority.
Results on 9th June
If the Tories win a majority, Brexit is back on and Theresa May will be Prime Minister for the next five years.
If Labour wins a majority, which I think very unlikely, but supposing they did, they might prevent Brexit on the grounds that the EU deal was unacceptable.
Theresa May’s idea is that the UK should then crash out of the EU with no deal at all – which would cause chaos. I think Labour – whether under Corbyn or another leader – is more likely to revoke Article 50 than to vote for no deal at all.
If the Tories lose their majority but are still the single largest party, I’d expect them to offer a coalition to the LibDems conditional on revoking Article 50. That is: the Tory/LibDem coalition would vote to revoke Article 50, the LibDems would then end up voting for worse and worse Tory policies, and in June 2022, the LibDems would lose any gains they’d made. But at least we wouldn’t have Brexit.
If the SNP win a majority in Scotland – especially, if on the same scale as they did in 2015 – then the SNP both have a significant number of MPs to oppose Brexit in the Commons, and an undeniable democratic mandate for the next independence referendum.
Vote tactically to get rid of the Tories, if you have a Tory MP or a Tory challenger. But vote.
We don’t have much chance to stop Brexit even now, but if Tories win with the same or increased majority, we have none at all. Tories will be in power til June 2022, and Theresa May, our racist former Home Secretary and passionate convert to the Brexiteer cause, will be their prime minister.