It’s fairly clear why Theresa May chose to call a General Election. Twelve months ago Conservative and Labour were tied but in the last twelve months the Tories have opened up a 20 point lead. It’s difficult to see how that can be eroded in just 7 weeks.
There are a few questions that leap out. We have just 23 months to sort the Brexit negotiations and two of them will now be taken up with domestic politics. The government was in power with a working majority until May 2020 so the election isn’t necessary and it is a distraction. An election could have been called months ago when the Tories had a comfortable 16 point lead. That way it would have been done and dusted before Article 50 was triggered . So why now?
Is Gorton a factor? The Gorton by-election set for May 4th is highly unlikely to now take place because Parliament will be in recess. The elected candidate would not be able to take their seat. A recent report in The Observer suggested it was a two horse race between Labour and the LibDems with 82% of the vote between them. With the Greens getting almost 10% last time round and George Galloway standing as an independent there was a very real chance the Conservatives would lose their deposit.
Perhaps even more worrying for the Prime Minister is the fact that 12 police forces passed files to the Crown Prosecution Service in recent months over allegations Conservative MPs broke local spending limits at the last general election. Around 20 MPs are said to be under scrutiny. If any cases were to go to court not only would it be highly embarrassing it could erode the party’s working majority which stands at just 17. Was that a factor?
Update 19.03 18.4.17 – The CPS has told Channel Four News that 30 individuals are under investigation.
“I have just chaired a meeting of the Cabinet, where we agreed that the Government should call a general election, to be held on June 8. I want to explain the reasons for that decision, what will happen next and the choice facing the British people when you come to vote in this election.
“Last summer, after the country voted to leave the European Union, Britain needed certainty, stability and strong leadership, and since I became prime minister the Government has delivered precisely that. Despite predictions of immediate financial and economic danger, since the referendum we have seen consumer confidence remain high, record numbers of jobs, and economic growth that has exceeded all expectations. We have also delivered on the mandate that we were handed by the referendum result. Britain is leaving the European Union and there can be no turning back and as we look to the future, the Government has the right plan for negotiating our new relationship with Europe.
“We want a deep and special partnership between a strong and successful European Union and a United Kingdom that is free to chart its own way in the world. That means we will regain control of our own money, our own laws and our own borders and we will be free to strike trade deals with old friends and new partners all around the world. This is the right approach, and it is in the national interest. But the other political parties oppose it. At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division. The country is coming together, but Westminster is not. In recent weeks Labour has threatened to vote against the deal we reach with the European Union. The Liberal Democrats have said they want to grind the business of government to a standstill. The Scottish National Party say they will vote against the legislation that formally repeals Britain’s membership of the European Union and un-elected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way. Our opponents believe that because the Government’s majority is so small, our resolve will weaken and that they can force us to change course. They are wrong. They under-estimate our determination to get the job done and I am not prepared to let them endanger the security of millions of working people across the country. Because what they are doing jeopardises the work we must do to prepare for Brexit at home and it weakens the Government’s negotiating position in Europe.If we do not hold a general election now their political game-playing will continue, and the negotiations with the European Union will reach their most difficult stage in the run-up to the next scheduled election.
“Division in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit and it will cause damaging uncertainty and instability to the country, so we need a general election and we need one now, because we have at this moment a one-off chance to get this done while the European Union agrees its negotiating position and before the detailed talks begin. I have only recently and reluctantly come to this conclusion.
“Since I became Prime Minister I have said that there should be no election until 2020, but now I have concluded that the only way to guarantee certainty and stability for the years ahead is to hold this election and seek your support for the decisions I must take.
So tomorrow I will move a motion in the House of Commons calling for a general election to be held on the eighth of June. That motion, as set out by the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, will require a two-thirds majority of the House of Commons.
So I have a simple challenge to the opposition parties, you have criticised the Government’s vision for Brexit, you have challenged our objectives, you have threatened to block the legislation we put before Parliament.
“This is your moment to show you mean it, to show you are not opposing the Government for the sake of it, to show that you do not treat politics as a game. Let us tomorrow vote for an election, let us put forward our plans for Brexit and our alternative programmes for government and then let the people decide and the decision facing the country will be all about leadership. It will be a choice between strong and stable leadership in the national interest, with me as your Prime Minister, or weak and unstable coalition government, led by Jeremy Corbyn, propped up by the Liberal Democrats – who want to reopen the divisions of the referendum – and Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP. Every vote for the Conservatives will make it harder for opposition politicians who want to stop me from getting the job done.
“Every vote for the Conservatives will make me stronger when I negotiate for Britain with the prime ministers, presidents and chancellors of the European Union. Every vote for the Conservatives means we can stick to our plan for a stronger Britain and take the right long-term decisions for a more secure future. It was with reluctance that I decided the country needs this election, but it is with strong conviction that I say it is necessary to secure the strong and stable leadership the country needs to see us through Brexit and beyond So, tomorrow, let the House of Commons vote for an election, let everybody put forward their proposals for Brexit and their programmes for Government, and let us remove the risk of uncertainty and instability and continue to give the country the strong and stable leadership it demands.”
At 11.05am today Prime Minister Theresa May announced that there will be an early UK General Election on Thursday June 8th. In a political speech which marked the start of the campaign , she criticised the other parties in the context of their stance on Brexit: “If we do not hold a general election now, their political game playing will continue” she said.
The election requires a motion in the House of Commons to be passed by a two thirds majority. That motion will be tabled tomorrow. The Labour Party alone could block the motion but May has clearly calculated that they won’t want to be accused of running scared. The current Tory lead over Labour stands at 18 points which if that was repeated in the vote would deliver a Tory landslide.