There can’t be many of us who have witnessed a more uncertain time in our political life. Just when we had refocused on US politics and started thinking President Trump versus the Syrians, North Koreans or the Easter Bunny was the biggest story this week , Theresa May pops back from her Easter break to deliver her shock announcement , calling a General Election on the 8th June.
Margaret Thatcher, the UK’s only previous female PM, was famous for resolutely failing to u-turn. Mrs May is obviously taking a different approach. Last year she was pro Remain and only last month No 10 was ruling out a snap General Election.
The PM’s decision to subject the electorate to another election also flies in the face of her “now is not the time” response to the SNP’s calls for a second indy referendum. The First Minister says the PM has made a “huge political miscalculation” but that remains to be seen. There is real anger amongst No voters in Scotland at the FM’s plans for a second referendum, Mrs May might well find herself viewed similarly by voters across the UK who want to see her Cabinet “getting on with the day job”.
Mrs May has calculated she has much to gain from Labour and UKIP disarray in England and Wales and little to lose in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The SNP are unlikely to grow their numbers of MPs from their record tally of 56 returned in 2015 so they will have little or no impact on her majority.
It’s difficult to see any other UK result than an increased Tory majority given the state of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party. By going to the country three years ahead of schedule she is strengthening her government before the worst impacts of Brexit hit British voters and taking advantage of a weak official opposition.
The PM says this is about eliminating division to Brexit within Westminster where her government “enjoys” a slender minority. She states that the country is coming together behind her quest for a successful exit from Europe while political opponents fail to capture the popular mood. This may be a comforting thought for the Prime Minister as she anticipates picking up UKIP votes as easily as former UKIP MPs in Leave voting constituencies but it doesn’t represent the full picture in this disunited kingdom.
While Brexit will form the backdrop to this election in Scotland Ruth Davidson’s Tories will want to portray it as a vote about a second independence referendum. These are the tactics currently being deployed by Tory Council candidates so the local elections on 4th May will be an early indicator if Scotland’s No voters will back the Conservatives as self styled sole unionist standard bearers . Perhaps an upcoming General Election will remind many Lib Dem and Labour voters that there remains a wider UK picture where the stakes are equally high.
While the Conservatives look set to be the big winners the Lib Dems will see an upturn in fortunes as the most pro Remain of the UK wide parties. The party has already seen an upswing in membership since the Brexit vote and the PM’s election announcement. Former big hitters such as Vince Cable are already throwing their hats in the ring amid signs voters are ready to forget (if not forgive) the party’s previous coalition with the Tories in an effort to strengthen the opposition to a hard Brexit.
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