The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, has stunned Westminster by calling a snap general election on June 8. Since her election as leader of the Conservative party and Prime Minister in July last year, she has consistently rejected any calls for an early general election. However, with Brexit underway and with her opposition looking divided, she demanded MPs vote to dissolve Parliament.
Rumours of an early election had been floating around the Westminster village since May became Prime Minister, with the difficulties of Brexit ahead and with the opposition Labour party bitterly divided, it seemed like a shrewd move. However, May has a reputation and is not known for political opportunism, she had previously said “There should be no general election until 2020” and “I’m not going to be calling a snap election” with a Downing Street insider saying, as recently as March, “there is no change in our position on an early general election.” On Tuesday morning, however, May stepped outside Downing Street and made her pitch to the voters, saying that every vote for her Conservative party would “make me stronger” in the Brexit negotiations.
MPs from all sides of the house did as the Prime Minister demanded, with 522 to 13 voting for a dissolution of Parliament and a June election, with the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, most Labour MPs voting for a general election with the SNP and some Labour MPs abstaining.
Polling day is just 7 weeks away and the Conservatives are confident. Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour party are facing oblivion. If polls are to be believed, Theresa May and the Conservatives are heading for their largest victory since the 1983 general election – when Margaret Thatcher commanded a powerful majority in the House after the Falklands war – with Labour heading for their worst result since 1931.
Early elections are a common occurrence in British politics, though rules demand a new parliament must be elected every five years, elections held before this limit are common. Margaret Thatcher held polls every 4 years in the 1980s, with Tony Blair following suit in the 2000s. In 2010, after the formation of the coalition government, however, rules were laid down that took the power to call elections out of the hands of the Prime Minister, and handed it to Parliament. In accordance with the ‘Fixed Term Parliaments’ Act, early elections can only be held under two scenarios. First, when a government loses a vote of confidence in the House of Commons and, second, when two thirds of all MPs vote for a new election.
Elections give a chance for the public to give their assessment of their ruling class, this will be no different. There will be plenty of important results to look out for, particularly in Scotland, where Nicola Sturgeon and her SNP will be defending the dominant position they won in 2015. With her recent call for a second ‘indyref’ against the wishes of the Scottish public, the election outcome north of the border will be one to watch. The Liberal Democrats, reduced to near annihilation in 2015, also have a chance to stage their comeback. With the Lib Dems positioning themselves as the party of the 48 per cent – of voters who backed remaining in the EU – this election gives them the chance to find a role again.
These are all maybe’s, and sudden elections often lead to uncertain results. A great many Labour seats, which were previously dyed in the wool red, are now in play in an election that will determine the nature of a United Kingdom outside the European Union.
– Cameron Martin, Correspondent (Europe)