So here we are again. On Tuesday Theresa May called for an early general election and on Wednesday a vote was held in Parliament to enact it. This is despite May insisting on several occasions that she would not call an election before 2020 – this U-turn caused Labour MP Yvette Cooper to ask why the public should believe a single word that comes out of her mouth. The reason May claims to have called one is quite simple: Opposition MPs and Lords are making Brexit too difficult. This is somewhat puzzling as the Article 50 vote to start the exit process passed through both Houses of Parliament without much trouble, leaving her government free to do virtually whatever they want. So why else could May be calling the election?
A cynic might say it was political opportunism – when May called the election Labour were 20% behind the Tories in opinion polls and fewer than 15% of people polled said they thought Corbyn would make a good Prime Minister. An election on these numbers would give Theresa May a majority of hundreds instead of her slim majority of twelve, making her much less fearful of rebellions ruining her plans. An election would also allow May to seek a mandate for her own domestic agenda, like the plan for a new generation of Grammar Schools, where it’s clear that the Prime Minister feels very strongly in taking action but currently the public have had no say on this. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this election resets the clock for the Conservatives. Should they win the Conservatives can be sure of retaining power until at least 2022 (though it does ruin the lovely round multiples of five we were on track to have).
So, what does this election mean for the parties in opposition?
Virtually every poll and pundit is saying that Labour are on track for a terrible defeat, with some projections seeing Labour reduced by nearly a hundred seats. This election, in their eyes, is adefensive battle. However if there’s anything the past few years should have taught us, it’s that the conventional wisdom can often be wrong. Angry and principled anti-establishment outsiders have been doing quite well. Corbyn’s anti-establishment message of well-funded public services, taxes on the rich, building more houses, lower tuition fees and an economy that works for everyone is a popular one. When the public hear about what he stands for they like it, the challenge for Labour becomes how to take that case to the public and get past their initial perceptions.
For the Liberal Democrats this election is a chance to fight back. The Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron has positioned his party as the ‘anti-brexit’ party. This is in the hope that the Tory seats that voted remain or former liberal seats that went to the Tories and Labour at the last election, will resonate enough to secure more seats for his party and restore the Liberal Democrats as a relevant force in British Politics. This sounds like a relatively easy task, especially as Labour and the Conservatives have vacated the political centre. However Tim Farron has been a fairly bland leader and spent the day after the announcement of the election trying to clarify comments that seemed to indicate he thought homosexuality was a sin. Similarly Tim Farron is attempted to frame his party as the ‘real opposition’ to the Tories while refusing to rule out going into another coalition government with them (after he ruled out working with Labour).
UKIP face a mirror image problem to the Liberal Democrats. For years they have been THE party of Brexit, arguably Nigel Farage has had a bigger impact on British Politics than many Prime Ministers could dream of, but they now face a fundamental question regarding what they stand for. Their new leader, Paul Nuttall, hoped to tap into support for Brexit in Labour’s heartland and become a new party of the working class but the Stoke Central by-election this seemed to fall flat. With the Conservatives claiming the mantel of the party of ‘hard brexit’, UKIP must either adapt or die as a political force. Their only MP, Dougal Carswell, recently left the party and left them facing the potentially of having no MPs at all after this election.
So, what does this mean locally?
In Newcastle Under Lyme Labour’s Paul Farelly has a razor thin majority of 650, if the polls remain as they are Labour will probably expect to lose that seat to the Conservatives, but there’s seven weeks of campaigning to go before that so who knows what might happen.
In Stoke Central, Keele graduate and Labour MP Gareth Snell faces another election – having only secured his seat in late February after the resignation of Tristram Hunt. The Stoke constituencies are a bit safer for Labour, each of them have majorities over two and a half thousand, however with Labour 20% behind in the polls anything could happen. Very few seats remain ‘safe’ for the party.
So, what can we expect to happen during the election period?
Brexit remains the most important issue in British politics, and will probably remain so for at least a decade. Theresa May has made a very strong effort to make this ‘a Brexit election’. Labour will probably try to downplay Brexit in order to direct attention towards issues such as cuts to the NHS, underfunding of education and poverty. It’s unclear how effective this strategy will be as while the public agree with Corbyn, they don’t trust him to govern.
May attempted to quash talks of TV debates between party leaders, stating that her party will make it clear what they’re standing for in the campaign. However after ITV stated they would hold a debate without her if she didn’t show up, the Prime Minister very quickly backtracked and stated she would consider ‘other formats’ (Bring On The Wall: Party Leader Edition?).
One thing that almost certainly won’t be talked about is Climate Change. The defining global challenge faced by mankind will once again be side-lined by our representatives in order to better facilitate squabbles over our relationship to the EU and who said what about whom.
The election itself will be on the 8th of June, so make sure you register to vote for wherever you’re going to be on that date at: www.gov.uk/register-to- vote . It takes barely any time at all and is SO important. If you want to get involved, I’d recommend getting in touch with the relevant political societies on campus who will no doubt he running campaign sessions and leafleting rounds. But most importantly please vote. Decisions are made by those who show up, one of major reasons politicians raise tuition fees and protect pensions is that the old vote and the young do not. Voting forces politicians of all parties to pay more attention to us and the issues that matter to us.