Theresa May to seek general election on 8 June
Theresa May has announced she will seek a general election on 8 June. On Wednesday a motion will be moved in the House of Commons which if passed will see parliament dissolved on 2 May. Under the rules brought in by the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011, Mrs May’s motion needs the support of two-thirds of MPs. It is all but certain she will receive this backing and the Conservatives will go on to substantially increase their majority, winning a strong mandate for Brexit and removing the barriers presented by the current parliamentary arithmetic.
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, has confirmed his party will back the motion. Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has said the same. This, along with the 330 Conservative MPs, should easily give Mrs May the 434 votes that she needs to go to the country, even after factoring in the odd rebellion.
After parliament winds up with the usual round of valedictory speeches, the campaign will begin. For any company which works with the government or is in dialogue with Whitehall, it is important to note that the purdah period – a convention which is applied to ensure impartiality in the run-up to elections – will place restrictions on announcements that the government can make (i.e. very few) during this time. Civil servants are also a little bit more limited in the engagement that they can carry out until a new government takes office.
Brexit will of course be the focus of the election campaign, as Mrs May has already made clear. This suits her as she can make specific manifesto pledges on what she wants to get from the upcoming negotiations with the EU. It also gives her, as mentioned above, a huge boost in her parliamentary majority, putting her less at the mercy of disgruntled backbenchers and diluting the effect of some of the very hard Brexiters. And it’s worth adding that, although the timetable for Brexit is tight, the general election won’t interfere too much with the negotiations, which are not likely to get going until the autumn.
Turning to the outcome, the Labour party is on course to be decimated. Current models suggest they will return about 180 MPs. Compare this to the 232 seats won at the general election in 2015 and 258 seats in 2010, and you can see what a fall from public favour the party has suffered. Conventional wisdom says that, if this happens, the leader of the party would resign. However, conventional wisdom has had a holiday recently and there is no guarantee that Mr Corbyn will do so, whatever the outcome.
There is also talk in Westminster that the Liberal Democrats will make gains in Remain-supporting areas. In particular, Tim Farron’s party are expected to re-take some seats lost to the Conservatives in 2015 in south west London and the south western counties of England. Indeed, former Liberal Democrat business secretary Vince Cable has said he will stand again in his old seat of Twickenham, which falls into this category.
It may, however, mean that Mrs May cannot deny the Scottish National party another referendum on independence in the next parliament, especially if the SNP holds on to all of the gains it made in 2015. The prime minister said only a few weeks ago that a second referendum would be a distraction from Brexit negotiations. But if the SNP was to call for one in 2020, in lieu of the general election that’s happening three years earlier than planned, Mrs May could find it difficult to argue against. Most elections set the tone for the coming five years but not many will have as much potential impact on the UK constitution as this one.