There is much talk of an early May election, in spite of Downing St’s denials. There is a need for political clarity and consensus as Great Britain embarks on the great leap into the unknown of Brexit, in my view necessitating an early General Election.
Politically and economically, strong arguments exist both for and against this. There are risks involved, such as the possibility of strengthening the two ‘yellow’ parties, the Lib Dems and the SNP. The Prime Minister needs to set out on the long negotiations with as strong a hand as possible, something she cannot do with a piddling majority of just 17. For this reason, and the need to gain the public’s mandate prior to the Brexit process, I believe that Theresa May would be well advised to at least contemplate a May election.
There can be little doubt about the outcome of such an election. It is hardly Tony Blair’s New Labour that the Tories face. Jeremy Corbyn is an embarrassment to his own party and Britain as a whole. He managed to lose a safe Labour seat in Copeland in a mid-term by-election, something which is frankly unprecedented. Recent polls show Labour behind by at least 14 points, easily landslide territory for the Tories. (Do bear in mind that the polls have historically underestimated the Conservative vote...).
The Tory interest is not necessarily the national interest, but it is in the national interest that the Tories are in government- especially in this instance! The Labour Party needs to introspect and rebuild after a defeat so that it can become a competent opposition again, capable of rigorously holding government to account, as a truly vibrant democracy requires. This is one of the main reasons to hold an early election. A de facto one party state is not good for the country.
Other reasons may emerge in time. Brexit, the starting gun for which will be fired by May on March 29, is a complex and long winded process. I was not in favour of Brexit, but the people made their decision on 23 June 2016 and the government must abide by it. The sheer complexity of the subjects to be dealt with, from immigration and security to trade dictate that the government have as much political capital in reserve as possible.
A Parliamentary majority of roughly 17 will not suffice, especially as some influential Conservatives still oppose Brexit- and mean to make their voices heard as former Chancellor Osborne indicated with his new job. To negotiate effectively with Brussels and not be seen as weak, to show a strong hand as well as to minimise any political disruption to an orderly Brexit process an early election is a must. The current situation leaves little margin for error. Mrs May needs numbers on her side. The only way to ensure that is a thumping election victory. A Tory majority of 100 or more would force European and global leaders to take May more seriously as the process unwinds.
There are cons as well as pros to the idea. There is little doubt now that the Conservatives would win, but the risk remains of still losing seats to resurgent Liberal Democrats, as happened to Zac Goldsmith. However the reality is that the Lib Dems are some way off their 2010 peak under Nick Clegg. They are polling just at or above single digits, jostling with UKIP for the position of protest party. Furthermore an imploding UKIP could not win Stoke and just lost its’ only MP, Douglas Carswell. Politics is much simpler than political professionals like to make it out to be. Protest parties can hoover up votes in by-elections but this is a very different scenario to a General Election, especially before an emotive subject like Brexit. The British public voted to leave the European Union and is not likely to compromise that position with an unexpected Europhile Lib Dem surge. This would be a ‘Brexit election’, for all practical purposes.
The other main challenge is that posed by potentially strengthening the Scottish Nationalists. The inability of Ms Sturgeon to respect a referendum outcome she does not like is undemocratic, to say the least. Nonetheless a strong SNP performance in a General Election could cause a potential threat to the Union. But there is hope, firstly, for an improved Scottish Conservative performance thanks to the sterling work of Ruth Davidson. The Tories have supplanted Labour to become the main opposition party, for all practical purposes. Secondly Theresa May has put her foot down, making it clear there will be no second referendum on Scottish independence. Strong political management from Downing St combined with a good Scots Tory performance can head off an SNP threat for now. There is no margin for error but it can be done.
An election in May 2017 would give Theresa May a renewed and broadened mandate to execute the will of the people. It can minimise the threat of political disruption from a Europhile flank on both Left and Right. Above all, it would help end the terrible spectre of Jeremy Corbyn, a man arguably fit to be an Islington Councillor and no higher, leading the Labour Party to oblivion. British democracy deserves better. A resurgent Conservative Party, unimpeded by imploding UKIP and Labour can provide the sound leadership Britain needs as it steps out into the great unknown. What is better for May, to lumber along with a majority of 12, or to gain the breathing space she needs as she embarks on a mission with zero margin for error?
It’s your call Ma’am- I think an early election may be just what is needed for Great Britain today.