7 minute read

A Stroke of Genius by May?

Brexit Surprises    7 minute read

A Stroke of Genius by May?

Theresa May has just called a snap general election to be held on the 8th of June, just under two months from now. This election, needless to say, carries huge significance for the UK, particularly as it negotiates the Brexit terms over the coming year and a half.

The issue of Brexit and the type of deal the government should be angling for is surely set to be the definitive issue in what could be a decisive election for the future of the UK.

A Stroke of Genius

From a Conservative point of view, May’s decision has been widely acclaimed. The Tories lead Labour by over 20 points in the polls, and May would not have called the snap election if she was not confident in a victory. Delivering another Conservative majority would solidify and legitimise her position as PM and give her a clear mandate to negotiate Brexit.

With Labour in disarray and Corbyn’s hold over the party tenuous at best, the Conservatives will likely market themselves as the only party capable of governing. Of course, it is very early days, but it looks very likely that the Conservatives will deliver a working majority. In a best case scenario, they could quite plausibly deliver upwards of 10/20 more seats to build on their majority.

Doom and Gloom for Labour?

With the Labour party in disarray and in an arguably much-weakened state to that of May 2015’s election, the next two months beckon significant questions over the future of the Labour party. You’d be hard pressed to find a political analyst that genuinely backs Labour to build on the number of seats they currently have (229).

Without sounding unreasonably pessimistic, given how much Labour struggled at the last election, with, it should be emphasised, a credible leader and serious policies, do they realistically have any chance of defying the odds with Corbyn?

As the different parties draw up manifestos and battle lines, Corbyn faces the unenviable position of having to either back Brexit in either a hard of soft form or denounce it. Labour would appear to be sandwiched into a corner where they back Brexit to satisfy many of their working class and Northern voters. Conversely, they could reject Brexit or angle for a soft form in order to appease many of their Southern, more liberal voters. In many ways, Labour is damned if they do and damned if they don’t with both the Lib Dems and Tories ready to capitalise on Labour’s position.

Central Cambridge is a good example of the pressures facing Labour and opportunity for the Lib Dems. The constituency is a Labour seat, having been won off the Lib Dems at the last election by the narrowest of margins, 599 votes. It is also, however, one of the most pro-Remain parts of the UK, with constituents overwhelmingly voting to remain. If Labour backs Brexit then they’ll lose the seat in all likelihood. Of course, other factors will have a sway, but the importance of Brexit in this election cannot be underestimated.

Corbyn refused to be drawn into questions regarding his future if Labour lose the election. These are serious questions though that Labour needs to be thinking about if they lose. Corbyn would be expected to stand down if Labour loses, in the same way that Ed Miliband did in 2015.

An Opportune Moment for the Lib Dems?

The timing and issue of Brexit are going to play into the hands of the Lib Dems nicely. They have been the only major party to openly advocate remaining despite the vote. While everyone else gets bogged down in the finer details of what a hard or soft Brexit could look like, openly backing a remain option is likely to win the Lib Dems many voters who are not happy with Brexit. The Lib Dems performed poorly in 2015, only delivering eight seats after the debacle over student tuition fees. This election promises them the opportunity to reinvent themselves again as the party of the young and liberal classes who are dissatisfied with leaving Europe.

Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael described the snap election as an “enormous opportunity”:

“If she wants this election campaign on the basis of Brexit then there is only one party that is actually going to stand in the way of the hard Brexit that she wants to see.”

This election could see the return of the Lib Dems as the third largest party in the commons. It has been so since 1992, with 57 seats in 2010, until 2015 when they only won eight.

Death Knell for UKIP?

One could be forgiven for getting confused as to what exactly the United Kingdom Independence Party’s role is, now that the UK has voted to leave the EU. With Nigel Farage, their iconic leader, gone, the party has descended into a seemingly self-perpetuating crisis. Diane James lasted three weeks in late 2016 as party leader before stepping down, with Paul Nuttall now at the top.

Douglas Carswell, UKIP’s only MP, recently defected to the Tories, further compounding UKIP’s existential crisis over what its role actually is now. At the last election, UKIP won over four million votes and the way these voters align themselves this time around could be decisive. It is highly likely that UKIP will lose the lion’s share of those votes, many of which were said to be protest votes. Losing these voters to whom though is the million dollar question. The Lib Dems are not likely to attract these voters but the Tories and Labour certainly could.

Paul Nuttall said:

“We believe that the Prime Minister’s decision to call this election is a cynical decision driven more by the weakness of Corbyn’s Labour Party rather than the good of the country.”

The View from Up North?

The SNP currently controls 56 seats of the 59 Scottish seats in Parliament. At a time when Sturgeon is looking to hold a second referendum on Scottish Independence, this election is likely to provide her with the opportunity to seek a mandate to do so.

It is hard to see Labour presenting a credible threat to the SNP’s dominance in Scotland. That being said, the SNP does not have much to win except for three more seats and a mandate for a second referendum. With so many seats already, one could argue that they actually have a lot to lose in the unlikely eventuality that the other major parties prevail up north.

The View from Brussels

This election, with Brexit at the heart of the campaign, will one way or another set out a clearer indication of what the UK’s negotiation is likely to prioritise – a hard Brexit, a soft Brexit or even no Brexit at all if the Lib Dems have their say.

At the time of writing, the FTSE 100 is down over 2%. If the markets bank on May being the decisive winner, then they are likely to settle quickly, but if this will be protracted campaign that does not favour a Conservative majority, then one could see significant market turmoil as the possibility of a coalition becomes a reality.

It is still early days and one could yet see some significant surprises along the way, but most indicators would point to a Tory victory. Then again, everything pointed to a Clinton and Remain victory so, in this day and age, who knows?

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