LONDON — You have got to hand it to Prime Minister Theresa May: She is a tactical genius.
Her decision to suddenly call a snap election for June 8 does not just take advantage of the poor polling ratings of the opposition parties, it actually locks them into an impossible dilemma whose choices only benefit the Conservative Party.
Here is how it works.
On the surface, the decision to go to the polls three years before the scheduled vote in 2020 looks like an obvious power grab: She knows the Labour Party, polling at just 23%, is at its weakest.
This is a never-to-be-repeated opportunity to increase her majority while the opposition is down and out. There appears to be no significant Liberal Democrat rebound. UKIP is a shambles under its untrustworthy new leader. The SNP is locked behind The Wall.
But that is not the sum of it.
Today’s vote in the Commons — she needs a two-thirds majority to trigger the election, which she is expected to get — puts Labour and the others in an impossible decision:
- By saying yes to an election, Labour (which knows it will lose) agrees to five more years of Tory government.
- But if Labour says no, the party agrees to three more years of Tory government until the regularly scheduled vote in 2020.
On that basis, taking the second choice is actually more valuable for Labour.
Yet, Labour is going along with May’s plan.
A number of Labour MPs have started to worry about this. The Guardian, since yesterday, has pinned this curious story to the front page of its website. It reports on the small number of MPs who believe the election is basically a trap, and that the party should surprise May by opposing her plan to hold it. The Guardian’s editorial page is also arguing against holding an election.
May knows the election must come now, because by 2020 we could be in a post-Brexit recession which would make her re-election bid complicated. UK households are already feeling cash-poor as the pound declines in value — an ominous signal for a sitting government.
An election this year also gives May her mandate before Britain sees the Brexit trade deal she cuts with the EU in 2019. That deal will likely leave the UK poorer because, by definition, it will reduce our access to the Single Market. A 2017 election means May doesn’t have to face the consequences for that deal until 2022.
And that is just the mechanics.
Politically, May has also been deft. She has walked right into the centre ground just as Labour has waddled off to the left, claiming the rump of Blairite/Liberal/Tory moderate voters who have elected every government since 1997.
May has a technical majority of only 12 MPs. She needs opposition votes to execute her plan. Her plan requires opposition MPs to sign their own death warrants. Yet Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn — and all the others — agreed to it immediately yesterday.
It is really very, very clever.
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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Insider.
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