May rolls the dice as she calls a snap election

Apr 18, 2017 | By Ben Nunn | Posted in Politics

Incisive Health looks at where next now Britain is heading for an early General Election.

To be strong abroad, you have to be strong at home. Over the coming days and weeks, there will be much speculation about the reasons underlying Theresa May’s sudden about-turn on a General Election, but – of all the factors which will have influenced her – this was probably the most important. Labour is weak, yes – but they have been weak for many months. Similarly, Theresa May is popular – but she has been throughout her extended honeymoon.

But for all her excellent polling numbers, Theresa May still possesses only a wafer-thin majority in the House of Commons, and the House of Lords was gearing up to make trouble. She has no personal mandate. Make no mistake, the next Parliamentary session was looking extremely problematic: there was an immense risk that the Great Repeal Bill – and all the other items of Brexit-related legislation which were set to be introduced – would be amended with impunity by the House of Lords, and that any rebellions would be backed up by a House of Commons over which her control is not absolute. 

Any successful rebellion – over medicines regulation, over the application of the EU’s procurement regulations to the NHS, over the EU’s air pollution limits – would have bound the Government’s hands in its negotiation with the European Union in the most public way. To a Prime Minister who has made a great play of not wishing to concede anything in the Brexit negotiation for the fear of weakening her hand – even the rights of EU citizens currently in the UK – such a situation would have been untenable.

So in the hunt for a stable Parliamentary majority, and her absolute need for a mandate from the country for her own version of Brexit, Theresa May has rolled the dice and the country will have to vote once again. But although the decision seems like a no-brainer (the poll numbers still look good, after all), it is nonetheless a risk. The public may tire of repeated trips to the polling booths. Many of those Tory-Lib Dem marginals, which were won by David Cameron less than two years ago, may switch straight back. The electorate – having taken a risk with Brexit in 2016 only a year after playing it ‘safe’ by electing a Tory Government in 2015 – may continue to prove volatile. 

And the Conservative Party is not ideologically united on whether a hard or soft Brexit should be pursued (the reason why Theresa May is concerned about her parliamentary numbers in the first place). Ultimately, the Conservatives’ desire to retain power may well keep a lid on internal disagreements during the campaign – but, the Conservative truce on Europe broke down spectacularly in the 1997 election and may do so again.

What is certain, after the last two years of politics worldwide, is that nothing should be taken for granted in the General Election of 8 June 2017.

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