Earlier this week, British Prime Minister Theresa May did what she had formerly promised she wouldn’t do, and called a snap general election for seven weeks’ time. Whether she wants a formal mandate for her Prime Ministership (so she can no longer be referred to as ‘unelected’ – even though the British political system is parliamentary rather than presidential, so no rules were broken), or for her Brexit plans (which are more extreme than many people anticipated), or whether she wants to take advantage of a weak opposition and gain power for the next five years, she is sending the country to the vote at the start of June, just a month after our local government elections.
While this is a snap general election, political parties have been aware that this might happen, so have been preparing for the possibility in advance, just in case. It has only been a year since the last big period of political campaigning, for the Brexit referendum, and local election campaigners are currently out in force. And that’s not even mentioning the relentless US election coverage that we endured here, too. The prospect of more electioneering and spin doctoring is hardly appealing, but it has been imposed.
Theresa May is currently refusing to take part in any televised election debates, leading to calls for her to be ‘empty chaired’ when the debates go on. She says she would rather spend her time knocking on voters’ doors, but there is an obvious discrepancy in the reach she can achieve compared to being on primetime television. While she tends to perform well at the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions debate, this decision suggests that she has some fear of live debate or of being challenged in public.
Her pitch to the electorate is that she offers ‘strong and stable leadership’, compared with what she calls Labour’s ‘coalition of chaos’, and although manifestos have not yet been released, it is speculated that she is unlikely to continue with the former Tory promise of no tax increases, though she has committed – for what that’s worth – to maintain overseas aid budgets.
There is no doubt that the general election voters will, to some degree, be presenting a vote on Labour’s controversial leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn, whose left-wing politics have earned him many passionate fans, has also had trouble uniting the party in the face of a rebellion.
While Corbyn has been effective at appealing to those on the far left of the party, the more centre-left Labourites are sceptical of his ability to lead, and he has been widely criticised for failing to present a robust opposition to the Conservative government. Even when the Conservative Party was effectively leaderless following the Brexit vote, Labour members set about organising coup to topple him from the leadership role rather than support his (meagre, let’s face it) efforts to hold them to account.
Labour’s unwillingness to stand firmly against Brexit has also caused a lack of popularity just when they need it the most. Time will tell whether its insipid leader and understated policies will lose many votes to the Liberal Democrats, who say they oppose Brexit.
The Liberal Democrats are gaining votes from remain activists, but what they do – compared to what they say they will do – cannot be trusted.
Leader Tim Farron has also caused uproar by refusing to say that he did not disapprove of gay sex and, despite eventually clarifying in parliament that he did not believe gay sex was a sin, the damage may have already been done. Those of us whose activities were apparently up for debate by the evangelical Christian may well resent his unwillingness to explain his position, and doubt can be thrown on his true feelings. His voting record on social issues is varied, and he has voted to limit abortion access in the past, as well as voting to support ‘conscientious objector’ registrars who did not want to marry same-sex couples.
Another anti-Brexit option is the Green Party, jointly led by Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley. A seemingly more radical choice, the party leadership suggested a left-leaning coalition in certain parliamentary seats. This ‘progressive alliance’ would stand up against the Conservatives where this is most needed, and Lucas commented, “For the sake of our NHS, our welfare state and our environment we need progressive party leaders to ditch partisan politics just for a moment and think about how we can best stop the Tories from wrecking our country for generations to come.”
Who cares? The only thing to say is that Farage has declined the opportunity to lose a general election seat for the eighth time.
What will happen?
Will the general election give the Tories more power to implement the hardest Brexit we can imagine? Will it put us in the land of unworkable coalitions again? Will the Labour Party be destroyed altogether, as is being speculated by many who are anticipating a devastating defeat for the left-wingers.
The campaigns over the coming weeks will tell us a lot about what the politicians hope for for the UK, and it’s up to the voters to deliver a just and fair result.
Illustration: DonkeyHotey/Creative Commons