by Stephen Tall on April 18, 2017
Well, who saw that coming? Not me. But Theresa May’s decision to call a ‘snap’ election actually suits all parties pretty well.
First, the Tories will win, and will win big. Two recent polls suggest leads over Labour topping 20%, and that’s before Lynton Crosby gets to work on Jeremy Corbyn’s policies and record. Assuming the Tories win back a chunk of Ukip support, dozens of Labour seats will tumble even if there’s no Labour-to-Tory swing. And there will be a Labour-to-Tory swing. The only real question is whether the Tory majority can be restricted to double-figures.
But there is an upside for Labour: a crushing defeat will at least trigger the ending of Mr Corbyn’s leadership. Who knows who’ll follow him (Yvette Cooper, Clive Lewis, Keir Starmer?), but they won’t – just can’t – be any worse. Labour will recover and have in place, at last, a leader capable of holding Theresa May to account. Which isn’t anywhere near as difficult as Mr Corbyn has made it appear.
For the Lib Dems, the timing is pretty much ideal. Anger among Remainers, still very real among a very significant minority of the electorate, has had no electoral outlet. And Tim Farron’s the only leader with a clear position, to reverse Article 50. The Lib Dems can (and will) benefit from Brexit backlash. The party can also hope to get a boost from this May’s local elections. And then there’s the still-to-be-seen impact of the as yet largely unknown-to-the-public Mr Farron in the TV debates (if, big if, they happen).
And of course the SNP can hope/expect to keep most of their MPs, while being able to frighten Scots voters into turning to independence in order to escape Tory rule for the foreseeable.
So, all parties are winners, Mrs May most of all, yes?
Well, maybe. She will have a bigger majority, an election victory in her own right. And that may be the only metric for measuring success. But elections have a funny habit of throwing up tricky unforseens – David Cameron’s catastrophic downfall was the result of his winning outright in 2015 – which is why most leaders avoid them unless forced.
How smart will Mrs May’s decision appear in 2019 if… there’s still no good deal with the EU in sight and British manufacturers and consumers are facing up to the no-longer-hypothetical-but-real economic impact of Brexit… if Labour is once again breathing down the Tories’ necks, led by a sensible, plausible PM-in-waiting… if the Lib Dems have regained a parliamentary toe-hold in former Tory seats… if Scotland has voted for independence and she’s the Prime Minister who ‘loses the union’?
A large part of Theresa May’s popularity has been built on being boringly safe. Voters, tired of the raging arguments unleashed by the referendum, have felt reassured by her stolidity. Today, she’s done something exciting, unpredictable, risky. Let’s see how that lands.