The role of the media is ostensibly to inform and educate the population on various happenings around the world. Fortunately, following the sclerotic, repetitive rhetoric that characterised both sides of the Brexit campaign, analysis of Prime Minister Theresa May’s recent decision to call a June election has, so far, been logical, insightful and constructive.
Although the electorate will head to the polls this summer with the impending Brexit negotiations imprinted firmly on their minds, the snap election will, indisputably, have significant ramifications for Labour’s future while also presenting, it seems, windows of opportunity for both the Liberal Democrats and the SNP.
A Political Masterclass?
As the PM has articulated, the objective of the vote is to temper the conflicting views within Parliament to dissipate domestic division ahead of the impending EU negotiations. Theresa May asserts that opposition parties are intent on stifling her negotiation position with Brussels in order to further their own respective agendas.
The Liberal Democrats have vowed to fight Brexit at every turn, though with just nine sitting members, it is entirely unclear how precisely they will do this. Prominent Labour MPs have, begrudgingly or not, accepted the inevitability of Brexit; Jeremy Corbyn has insisted that the forthcoming election is not solely about Brexit, and in fact is a chance for the nation to break free of years of Tory austerity. Further, since the referendum vote last June, the Government’s stance on Brexit has moved incrementally closer to what is dubbed a “hard Brexit”: leaving the single market, regaining full control over immigration and borders, making independent trade deals, and relying on the World Trade Organisation.
To an extent, therefore, May’s public reasoning for calling the election seems somewhat disingenuous. Although Mrs May has, rather publicly, been challenged in the courts, culminating in a Supreme Court decision that she must grant Parliament a vote on Brexit, which itself, in accordance with the nation’s legislative system, was challenged by the House of Lords, the Government has not been forced to deviate significantly from its “hard Brexit” stance. It seems likely that with Labour in perpetual disarray and the Liberal Democrats holding so few seats, the PM has finally decided to seize the opportunity to return the largest Tory majority since the Thatcher era.
Not only this, many on the political Left have indulged themselves in quasi-intellectualism by coyly pronouncing that Mrs May is herself “unelected” and insinuating she is some sort of usurper. Those who argue along these lines inevitably betray their own misunderstanding of the British electoral system: unlike the US, the UK electorate votes not for a party, but a leader. Consequently, the mandate to lead held by Mrs May is the same one that voters granted David Cameron in 2015. The second and more obvious point is that Gordon Brown, the last Labour PM was also unelected. Perhaps unsurprisingly, those who complained about May’s supposed lack of a mandate appear to now be decrying her call for an election as somehow “un-democratic” or, stranger still, “anti-democratic”.
Accordingly, given the widespread belief that the Tories will win a landslide victory, it is little wonder that many pundits describe May’s decision as a political masterclass.
The Other Side Of The Coin
There are several issues, however, which might, from a Tory perspective, challenge May’s wisdom in calling the snap election.
Primarily, the Tories are already in an enormous position of strength. The Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 stipulates that the next election is in 2020, giving May a further three years of power before heading to the polls. Most significantly, these three years would involve further erosion of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn – assuming, of course, the party continues to fail to remove him – and a Liberal Democrat Party that has a lilliputian presence in the Commons. Accordingly, if May waited until 2020 and if Brexit is at least a moderate success, she would face the same weak opposition in that future election that she is set to face this June and effectively protract her rule.
Next, it is a forgone conclusion that Labour will be heavily defeated by the Tories this summer. Already, several prominent Labour MPs who do not conform to Corbyn’s brand of socialism and redistribution have decided not to challenge their seats. The FT reports that many are avoiding publishing Corbyn’s image or name in their constituency pamphlets. Should Labour lose many more seats, common wisdom dictates that Corbyn would, finally, be ousted.
Nonetheless, these are uncommon times. Should, however, Corbyn be removed, the Tories could face a competent Labour leader in 2020. Accordingly, by calling the snap election, May could damage her chances of winning the 2020 election, unless, of course, she repeals the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.
There is also the deep-rooted mistrust of Tories in long-held Labour seats that May – like all Conservative leaders – must contend with. The recent by-elections in Stoke and Copeland offer up two very different models of how the snap election might play out in such constituencies. Whereas Copeland was a victory for the Conservatives, it ought not be forgotten that Stoke, despite the hopeless leadership of Corbyn, returned a Labour vote. With UKIP’s retreat in prominence, it remains to be seen whether Brexiteers in these areas will vote for Labour or renege on their historical opposition to the Conservative Party and back the incumbent PM.
The SNP, which has possibly been the greatest thorn in May’s side since the Brexit vote and, in all fairness, perhaps the only effective opposition in Commons, could also be bolstered in its ambition to put the country through yet another independence referendum. However, the SNP already holds nearly all Scottish seats, so it is unlikely the election could add to its leverage with Westminster. Opinion polls remain mixed as to whether the Scots do indeed currently seek independence, leaving the possibility that those who are averse to Nicola Sturgeon’s opportunism and “who can shout the loudest” brand of politics, might align themselves with the Scottish Conservatives, headed by Ruth Davidson, who campaigned for Remain with great vigour prior to the Brexit vote.
Furthermore, the Richmond by-election showed that the thinning Liberal Democrats could also pose a threat to Conservative hegemony. Yet this should not be misstated or misunderstood: when Zac Goldsmith resigned his seat and ran as an independent, the Tories chose not to stand an official candidate against him. In any case, the Liberal Democrats won by only a narrow margin. Nevertheless, the populations of many southern constituencies, such as Esher and Walton are largely pro-Remain, yet represented by a pro-Leave MP – in this case Dominic Raab. There remains scope for the Liberal Democrats to usurp some of these seats and add to their albeit microscopic Parliamentary presence.
The Middle Way
“The middle of the road,” said Present Dwight D. Eisenhower, “is all of the usable surface. The extremes, right and left, are in the gutters.” Popular opinion surrounding Mr Corbyn evinces one-half of Eisenhower’s axiom. There is a risk that the Government’s “hard Brexit” agenda could actualise the other, leaving the middle way open to the Liberal Democrats. Overall, however, it seems likely that the June 8 snap election will leave the Tories with a powerful majority.
Far more interestingly, it remains to be seen of course how precisely May will steer the ship of state through the coming EU negotiations.