So May wants to have an early election, in one of the biggest political U-turns in recent history. We were assured for months that there would be no such thing, why the whole reason for the fix term parliament act, which the Tories brought in during the last parliament, was essential to ensure stability and continuity of government….which they now propose to ditch at one of the most critical moments in recent UK history (hence why the markets suddenly dropped today as result of this announcement).
However the massive Tory 20 point lead in the polls proved just too irresistible to ignore. But this polling lead is due to a key electoral asset the Tories possess – Jeremy Corbyn. The danger is that sometime between now and 2020, he’d be unseated. And the upcoming local elections, where its expected labour will do badly, could be exactly the sort of opportunity for Corbyn’s opponents to do this. The Tories didn’t want to wait and risk having an election without Corbyn as labour leader, so they’ve decided to pre-empt any move to topple him.
Also there’s a lot of bad news in the pipeline over brexit. Prices are starting to go up, its starting to dawn on people that it might not have been a great idea. The Tories will face pressure from both directions during the brexit negotiations. On the one hand, they’ll have to make a lot of concessions to the EU which will infuriate the little Englanders. And on the other hand, there will be further rounds of cuts to spending in keeping with the expected fall in tax revenue. The impact of all of this on a 2020 election is difficult to foretell, particularly when you factor in a possible 2nd indyref. So the danger of waiting is their poll numbers could slide and next thing you know they’d be kicking themselves for waiting.
And there is history here. Gordon Brown was urged to have an early election after he took over from Tony Blair. Labour had seen a bounce in the polls, it was expected he’d win easily, gaining a mandate separate from Tony Blair’s. But he hesitated, in part due to some polls suggesting their majority might be reduced. Then the financial crisis hit and the rest as they say is history. Churchill too, delayed an election due to some ongoing European matters. Only for him to then lose the 1945 election to labour. So waiting might not be a terribly good strategy.
So should there be an election? My view no, and I’m not just saying that because I expect the Tories to win. They are setting a very dangerous precedence. We were told when the fix term parliament act came in that fixed terms are important for stability. However they now seem to be saying bolix to all of that, we only brought that in to control the lib dems. So instead the stability of the country will be sacrificed for the short term internal politics of the Tory party. Much as the brexit vote was held not because it was a good idea, but to resolve an internal dispute within the Tory party. And brexit is being negotiated not on terms that are favourable to the UK, but on terms that will be acceptable to the different factions within the Tory party. And of course the miners strike under Thatcher, the decision to join and then leave the ERM under Major were all made, not in the best interest of the country, but to deal with short term issues within the Tory party.
So the pattern here is that the UK national interest comes secondary to the internal politics of the Tory party. Which ever way you vote in this election won’t really matter. We’d be better off circumventing the process and all of us just joining the Tory party…although to sign up you’ll need a quart of blood from a baby and a handful of soil from your own grave! So it might not be for everyone.
Aside from this short term thinking, there is a more fundamental problem here. The Tories are going back on what they said with regard to fixed term parliaments. There is a convention of government that succeeding parliaments do not repeal bills passed by prior administrations without good reason or cause. Otherwise, the end result is political ping pong. e.g. Tony Blair or Brown repeals all of Thatcher’s privatisation policies, then Cameron spends much of his parliament bringing them back in. Nothing ends up changing. Arguably if a party campaigns on an issue at a previous election, then that’s grounds for repealing stuff. But I see nothing about repealing fixed term parliaments in the last Tory manifesto (nor do I see anything about a hard brexit either!).
So while I doubt the Tories will be stopped, its clear this election is being held for the most cynical of reasons at a time the country can least afford it.