I can’t say I’m surprised.
This morning Theresa May announced that she intends to seek an early general election, which will be held on 8th June. Although she had repeatedly stated that she wouldn’t call one before 2020, it seems that the temptation to cash in on the astonishing lead that the Conservatives have in the polls has proved too much.
Here’s the guide to everything that you need to know.
Why the sudden change of heart?
Well… there’s a few reasons. First of all, since May became Prime Minister, the Tories have been consistently polling a share of the vote far higher than that of Labour. In the last couple of weeks, its grown even further to a massive 20 point lead.
However, there is another reason. May currently has a majority of just 17 seats in the House of Commons and with Brexit negotiations approaching, she needs a workable majority. By this, I mean that she needs enough seats that if a handful of her MPs rebelled on a certain piece of legislation, she’d still have enough to get it through. There simply isn’t the time to fight a battle for every bill that needs to be passed, and as May said today, it would be horrendous to go through 2 years of negotiations only to find the Commons don’t accept the final deal.
Isn’t it a bit risky to hold an election?
Yes and no. As I mentioned, most polls have indicated that she has a huge lead over Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. So, no – it’s very unlikely that she’ll lose power.
However… in 2015 the polls got it wrong (although not that wrong). On average, Ed Miliband was given a lead of 1-2% over David Cameron, whereas in actual fact the Tories won by 6 points and got an overall majority in the Commons. In recent days, one poll surprisingly gave May only an 8-point lead. It’s unlikely that all the others are wrong, and 8 points is still a big lead, but by no means insurmountable. So, yes perhaps it’s a little risky, but May clearly believes that it’s work the risk.
Which poll do you believe?
Does May have the power to call an election?
Not on her own, no. Until 2011, she would have been able to, but the Cameron-Clegg coalition introduced the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, which fixed the term of Parliaments (!) for 5 years. So, in theory, an election shouldn’t be held until 2020.
However, if a 2/3 majority vote for an early election, it can be brought forward. May has the backing of most of her own MPs, and Corbyn has said that his party will support the motion. So in all likelihood there will be an election on 8th June.
What can we expect to see?
If the polls are right, Labour could lose 40, 50 or even 60 seats. If this happens (or, to be honest, as long as Labour don’t win the election) Corbyn will be under immense pressure to resign.
However, there are other things to watch out for. The Lib Dems will be campaigning for a second EU referendum at the end of Brexit negotiations to decide whether or not Britain should accept the final deal offered to them. Ardent Remain voters could choose to vote for Tim Farron’s party, giving them a likely resurgence in the South-East. This is likely to hurt the Conservatives more than Labour though, and is unlikely to see the party gaining more than a handful of seats.
UKIP will be looking to regain a couple of the seats which they’ve lost in the last few months. New leader Paul Nuttall will probably stand again, as will ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks.
In Scotland, the SNP are likely to dominate again. Labour are unlikely to gain any seats but the Tories could be on course to challenge in a few constituencies.
However, most interesting could be the situation in Northern Ireland. The country is still without a government as talks continue between the main parties at Stormont. They are yet to agree a power-sharing deal, and Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire has given them a deadline of early May. If no deal is reached, there could be a return to direct rule from Westminster or another election. The country will also be voting in the general election though, and it remains to be seen whether the Nationalists will be able to maintain the surge that they experienced a few months ago. It’s going to be an interesting few months in Northern Ireland…
Finally, there are also council elections which will be held on 4th May. These will likely give an indication of what the result will be a month later and could lead to some emergency changes of plans if any party performs particularly badly.
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