Well, we weren’t expecting that! Theresa May’s announced intention to trigger a snap election on 8th June has taken the country by surprise. Activists and returning officers alike will be cancelling summer plans to warm up their printing presses and get ready for #GE2017.
So why did the Prime Minister take the gamble of an election now over one in 2020? I suspect a range of pressures came together over the Easter period to change Mrs May’s mind on when to hold the election. Here’s my take on the reasons why we’re facing an election now.
Legislative uncertainty from the snap election
Mrs May hadn’t wanted to bring a Brexit Bill to Parliament, but once the Supreme Court required it, the bill’s passage was surprisingly smooth, garnering cross-party support. However, for the legislation that will be required to deliver Brexit, including the Great Repeal Bill (which will enact EU law known as the ‘acquis’ into UK law), it was looking much harder for the Government to retain its majority.
The size and scope of the bill meant clauses could be picked off and amended by groups of MPs across party lines, speaking up for pet issues ranging from agriculture to pharmaceuticals to banking. Fresh elections delivering a bigger Conservative majority weaken such opportunities.
The Hard Brexit Crew
It’s no secret that the Prime Minister was a Remain supporter. Yet her steely post-referendum commitment to “Brexit means Brexit” has given her a degree of latitude from the most ardent Brexiteers on the Conservative benches.
But as negotiations with the EU actually get going, compromises will need to be made. This is when the Tory ‘Hard Brexit’ Crew (strengthened with UKIP’s loss of Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless) could really exert pressure, given they are larger in number than the Government’s working majority. Mrs May is reportedly hoping that given UKIP’s current disarray this election will dilute the ranks on her benches with many more moderate Conservative MPs.
A stonking lead in the polls
Much as she wanted to resist, the vast poll lead Mrs May has over Jeremy Corbyn was a temptation few politicians would be able to ignore. No matter what happens, it was unlikely such a huge lead could be maintained year after year.
With some of her own MPs begging for an election now, Mrs May not only fires the starter gun with the best possible polling momentum, she also has the public support of her MPs. Should they be re-elected, she will hope they owe her their gratitude for another five years on the green benches.
The Scotland question
With the SNP leading the Scottish Government and holding all but three Westminster seats there, the political dynamics in Scotland are very different to the rest of the UK. Mrs May was clearly displeased to have First Minister Nicola Sturgeon trying to bounce her into supporting a second independence referendum before the Article 50 letter had been sent in March.
Conservatives might be hoping that a snap election could shift the dynamics in Scotland, even a little, away from support for independence and thus break the SNP’s momentum.
The 2020 trade negotiations
Most commentators now accept the EU’s stance that trade negotiations with the UK cannot begin until after the main ‘divorce settlement’ is largely agreed. This means it won’t be before 2019 or 2020 that the more positive work of forging new trade deals can commence.
The risk the Prime Minister probably considered was that this would mean a 2020 General Election (until yesterday, the scheduled time for the next election) being fought with the backdrop of a painful separation from the EU without a positive new agreement yet in place. This, along with the risk of any ‘events’ damaging polling, was probably very persuasive to Mrs May.
On the road to polling day
All of these issues led Mrs May to change her mind, we are told, while walking in Snowdonia over Easter. Whatever her calculation, we’re in for a very interesting and unusual election campaign, prefaced by local and mayoral elections in May which will give us an early sense of how the parties are doing.
Crunch is politically neutral. We don’t support or favour any of the political parties. What we do is campaign on behalf of our community: the self-employed, contractors, freelancers and small business owners. We will be doing all we can to ensure your needs aren’t lost in the debate.
We hope to see the ideas we’ve promoted through our research with the RSA cropping up in manifestos and hustings. We also want to make sure that important work-in-progress – such as the Taylor Review of Modern Employment Practices and the promised consultations on parental rights for the self-employed – don’t get lost in the election noise.
You can help by contacting your MP and local candidates asking them what they will be doing to support our community should they be elected. Let us know how you get on in the comments.