Theresa May seeks General Election for 8th June 2017

By Matthew Sutton, Chair of the APPC's Young Consultants Committee

Earlier today Prime Minister Theresa May dropped a political bombshell in calling for a snap General Election on June 8, announcing that she wanted a bigger mandate to negotiate Brexit. Despite ruling out an early election on several occasions in the past, the Prime Minister justified her U-turn after claiming that opposition parties were jeopardising the Government’s Brexit preparations, and as such a fresh vote was necessary.

Speaking from the steps of Downing Street, the Prime Minister cited the national interest repeatedly when saying it was vital that divisions in the Commons over exiting the European Union be settled, the obvious intention of the election being to deliver a massive Conservative majority which would ensure that the Prime Minister is provided with a powerful mandate to put demands to other EU leaders at a major summit on June 22.

As such, the Prime Minister will tomorrow be calling for a vote under the provisions of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, as in order for there to be an election the Government requires two thirds of MPs to support the motion. That means the Conservatives alone will not be able to push the vote through. However, shortly after the Prime Minister’s announcement Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn confirmed that he would support the motion, alongside Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron who confirmed his 9 MPs will vote in support of the election.

All recent polls give the Conservatives a sizeable lead over the Labour party. Of three polls published over the Bank Holiday weekend, two gave a 21-point lead to the Tories, a result which if replicated on election day would probably give the Conservatives a majority of over 100 seats. This therefore suggests that Mr Corbyn and the Labour party are heading for a decisive defeat.

A number of Labour MPs are likely to take the opportunity to review whether they will contest their seats in this election. One Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, has already announced he will not be standing in the marginal Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland seat.

The Liberal Democrats have for months been doing significantly and consistently better in by-elections than in the polls, following a renewed focus on supporting membership of the EU. Lib Dem leader Tim Farron responded to the Prime Minister’s shock announcement by stating that the best remainers can hope for is a reduced Tory majority with his party holding them in check.

In Scotland the SNP, who have been preparing to fire the latest salvo in their battle for a second referendum on independence, will now have to rethink their tactics. Nicola Sturgeon will be under intense pressure to record another resounding result following the party’s 2015 victory - it is difficult to see how they will improve on the 56 Westminster seats they won, the flip side being that if they lose a significant number of seats, the pro-Union parties will say it is a clear message from Scots that they are against IndyRef2.

The Conservatives pose more of a threat than they did in 2015, as they find themselves in the unusual position of being the second largest force in Scotland following Ruth Davidson’s successful campaign to position the Tories as the pro-Union party attracting those opposed to independence. She will undoubtedly look to do the same now.

The purdah period before general elections is not regulated by statute, but government will likely go into purdah about five weeks beforehand, probably the same day that the country votes in local elections on May 4th (although this is yet to be confirmed).

The Queen’s speech, previously rumoured to take place on 17th May, will no longer happen, as Parliament is now likely to conclude its business at the end of this Parliamentary session in a few weeks around mid-May.

The snap election was previously thought by analysts as unlikely for a number of key reasons. Holding off until 2020 would have allowed the Tories to take advantage of boundary changes that come into force in 2018. However, the election will still be fought on the existing parliamentary constituency boundaries, as the formal review of constituencies by the Boundary Commissions for each nation will not be concluded for another year.

In addition, the terms of the Fixed Term Parliament Act made it less likely for opposition parties to support an election but as previously noted Labour have already backed a vote in the Commons.

Finally, and most importantly, the Prime Minister staked a large chunk of her credibility on not U-turning on her decision that there would not be a snap election. In her statement, Mrs May said she had only reached the decision “recently and reluctantly”. However, with Labour’s position in the polls historically dire, a snap election delivering a stronger Tory government is unquestionably the smart option. Such a victory would kill off the idea of a second referendum, and close down the argument that the electorate had not given consent to withdrawal from the single market

This election will therefore go a long way to establishing the Prime Minister’s personal authority at home and the Government’s abroad as part of negotiations with the EU.