6 quick election announcement takeaways
1. Theresa May hasn’t actually called a general election yet. She can’t. The Fixed Term Parliament Act leaves that decision with the House of Commons, so in reality the fate of this putative election lies with the other parties (see Lord Norton's short sharp analysis). If Labour – as Corbyn has asserted – supports the call, along with the SNP and the Lib Dems, then the one thing they cannot do is accuse May of putting party interest before country. The Act no longer allows her to do that. Instead, it makes a 2/3rds majority of MPs responsible instead. Murmurings of turkeys and early Christmases spring to mind, and I do wonder if all Labour MPs are going to sign up to Corbyn’s suicide pact tomorrow. If they do, then for more than a few it will be a means to hastening their unloved leader’s end.
2. 2. Most forecasts – actually all forecasts – give the Tories a whopping likely majority. This is pretty solid, and it will take a small political earthquake to dislodge the Tory advantage (although…Trump, anyone?). Therefore much of the interest will be on how the opposition forces realign themselves. If Labour really does head into an electoral meltdown, are the Liberal Democrats well placed to take advantage of it? Tim Farron was far more sure-footed today than Jeremy Corbyn, and the Lib Dems are claiming a thousand new members in the few hours since Theresa May’s announcement. They may also benefit from the “Remain” leaning seats currently held by Tories in south London and the south west – some estimates put their possible gains from the Tories at 27 seats. Nevertheless, can the Lib Dems also budge Labour in its northern heartlands? The now redundant Manchester Gorton by-election was showing some real LD strength thanks to a good local candidate, but can that be repeated across a swathe of Brexit believing Labour seats?
3. 3. Will this election make UKIP formally redundant? They are not defending any seats since the defection of sole MP Douglas Carswell (who was never a spiritual UKIP-er anyway) and it will be interesting to see what happens to their 3 million 2015 votes. If they see a sharp decline, we can probably rule them out as a political force from June 9th onwards. If we haven’t already done so.
4. 4. Theresa May has crafted this as an election on Brexit, but does that mean she is hoping no-one will look too closely at the rest of her domestic agenda? She is struggling to define herself at the moment, making speeches that lean towards One Nation conservatism but carrying out actions that suggest old style Tory callousness. Catastrophic morale in the NHS, short-funding of schools, budget incompetence recently over NI contributions, craven-ness on challenging the corporate interests she claimed to be ready to face up to….all this points to an uneasy domestic agenda that has hardly been crafted to win popular support.
5. 5. It’s about personalities. With Brexit the dominant political item, and no-one really having a clue about how it will or should pan out, the election will – as so often – come down to personalities, and for May there is very little competition. Jeremy Corbyn is as hopeless a leader as you could hope for in your opponent, while Tim Farron will struggle, even with an election megaphone, to make the impact he needs. By slapping down the chance of a TV debate May has also deprived Farron of his possible “Cleggmania” moment. It was a smart move on May’s part – she had nothing to gain from such a venture.
6. 6. Finally, the result doesn’t mean a one-party state. Should the Tories win big – the most likely outcome – they still face inordinate problems over the next five years, and such a result gives both Lib Dems and Labour the chance to properly regroup (under a new leader in Labour’s case, or with a spun off new party). Five years may seem like a lifetime to upset liberals, but it offers May a mere two-year extension on her current lease. In the end, that may not actually be enough if Brexit bombs.