Published:

120 comments

Pros

  • The Conservatives have just notched up their biggest poll lead over Labour.  If not now – as Charles Walker might put it – when?
  • A contest now means that Labour is trapped into contesting it with Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader.  That might well not be the case in 2020.
  • An election now will also mean some mainstream Labour MPs standing down.  As our live blog reports, Tom Blenkinsop is off.   In one sense, that’s helpful to Corbyn.  In another, it will simply highlight the party’s divisions.
  • The Liberal Democrats are recovering their position in local elections, but will begin in June from an very low Commons base. Casting a protest vote for them is one thing; doing so in a general election quite another.
  • May’s policy of leaving the EU entirely – no Single Market membership, out of the customs union – leaves UKIP with very little room for manouevre.  In any event, Nigel Farage no longer leads it; Paul Nuttall is struggling.  The poll threatens to be a day of reckoning for Douglas Carswell (if he stands).
  • If she wins the election, May could carry on her new term as Prime Minister until 2022.  That gives her more time to see through Brexit, clinch that trade deal – and, please note, also extend any transitional arrangements on ECJ authority, immigration control and payments to the EU.  If the election had taken place in 2020, pressure would have been on her to end them by then or thereabouts. 2022 gives her two years more leeway.
  • The Brexit talks are bound to get rough.  Going to the country in June means a chance of conducting them backed by a bigger majority.
  • It also has the useful benefit of quietening the Conservative dissenters over Brexit – Nicky Morgan, Dominic Grieve, Anna Soubry et al. Election loyalty is a wonderful thing.  Ken Clarke will presumably not seek another term.
  • The economy is overdue a downturn – Brexit or no Brexit.  Holding an election in the summer means a chance of winning that bigger majority before a contraction takes place.
  • There is a chance of making progress in Scotland, where the Party holds only one seat, and where Ruth Davidson is providing charismatic Tory leadership.
  • Above all, May currently has no real working majority, as the retreat over the Budget’s NICs proposals proved.  A poll offers her the chance of obtaining one – and getting her grammar school plans through the Commons, not to mention much else.
  • Such a majority would give May an opportunity to strengthen her Cabinet and refresh the Government.
  • Oh, and a small plus in the great scheme of things. Pressing for an election now puts George Osborne on the spot, and wrecks his timetable for starting at the Evening Standard.

– – – – – – – – – –

Cons

  • As recently as last month, Downing Street was saying of an election: “it’s not going to happen. It’s not something she plans to do or wishes to do.”  Theresa May has established a reputation as a woman of her word.  This reverse ferret could endanger it.
  • Voters hate unnecessary elections – and have a way of punishing leaders who force them.  Glance back at February 1974.  Those voting on May 4 in local elections will particularly resent having to vote twice in scarcely more than a month.
  • The Prime Minister will be vulnerable to the charge of cutting and running – before the Brexit talks turn rough, before the economy heads south.
  • The election will be contested under the present boundaries, thereby depriving the Conservatives of additional seats.
  • The Liberal Democrats are well-placed to take seats off the Tories in south-west London and in the south-west of England, cancelling out some of the presumed gains from Labour.
  • A manifesto with bold pledges to end the pensions triple lock and scrap departmental ring fencing would be justified. It could also be very chancy indeed amidst the heat of a campaign.
  • The contest could go horribly wrong for May in Scotland, with the Conservatives losing the only seat they hold. Pressure for a second quick independence referendum might then become irresistable.  This could become “the election that lost Scotland”.
  • The poll might well return a Tory Parliamentary Party more Brexiteering than the present one, thereby restricting May’s room for manouevre on ECJ authority, immigration control and payments to the EU.
  • The Prime Minister and other senior Ministers will come under pressure during the media exposure of an election campaign to spell out her Brexit plans in more detail.  This will be hard to resist – and damaging to the negotiation.
  • A June poll will mean three lost months to the negotiation, which Britain can arguably ill afford to lose.
  • If the election does not deliver May an increased Commons majority, her position on present numbers there will be weaker, not stronger.
  • Beware the law of unexpected consequences.  Donald Trump takes military action in Korea, say.  Or launches further strikes in Syria.  The Government would be torn between wanting to support an ally, and the anti-intervention instincts of the electorate.

P.S: All the above assumes that Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP will play ball, and not seek to use the opportunities that the Fixed Terms Parliament Act gives them to block or delay a poll.

120 comments for: The Prime Minister’s election gamble. The pros. The cons.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.