One of the biggest talking points heading into the Conservative party conference in Birmingham this weekend is whether Theresa May will call a snap general election.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show earlier this month, the prime minister ruled out an early general election on the basis that it would mean another spell of instability after the turbulent EU referendum.
“I think we need that period of time, that stability, to be able to deal with the issues that the country is facing and have that election in 2020,” she said.
There are strong arguments why May should wait until 2020.
The Tories have enjoyed massive leads over Labour in opinion polls since the middle of the summer. The government was 11-points ahead of the opposition according to a BMG survey published this week. To put this into context, Ed Miliband’s Labour had a 6-point lead over the Tories at this point in the last electoral cycle. Clearly, it is Labour which has all the work to do ahead of 2020, not the Conservatives.
Plus, waiting until 2020 means May will lead the Tories into an election fought along advantageous new constituency boundaries. Under the current proposals for how the UK’s boundaries will be redrawn, Labour is set to lose 28 seats before a vote has even been cast, increasing the Tory majority from 12 seats to 40.
Then there is the issue of Brexit. May is already under pressure to start delivering on the result of June’s referendum and an early general election would only delay the process — especially she decided to hold it before triggering Article 50. Plus, 75% of Tory members rejected the idea of an early election in a poll published last month.
But there are also compelling arguments for the Tories to call a snap election.
The prime minister’s bold plan to reintroduce grammar schools is facing resistance from the op resistance of some of her own MPs, including former education secretary Nicky Morgan. If May wants to avoid the embarrassment of having her first flagship policy blocked, strengthening her mandate via an early election could become a much more appealing idea.
Lord Lawson raised this point in an interview with the Times. “I don’t believe Theresa May wishes to hold an early election,” the former Tory chancellor said.”If, however, the government were to find that it couldn’t get its legislation through the House of Commons, then a wholly new situation would arise.”
Plus, realistically, an early general election would be crushing for Labour. Jeremy Corbyn is severely unpopular with the general public and based on recent projections the party could lose over 40 MPs, significantly strengthening the government’s hand when it comes to getting its legislative agenda passed.
This could strengthen May’s position when it comes to negotiating Britain’s departure EU, too. No longer could opponents of Brexit suggest the prime minister has no democratic legitimacy to trigger Article 50. May would be elected and with a convincing mandate. Interestingly, this would mean calling an election prior to Article 50 being triggered, which means Brits would go to the polls next year at the very latest.
When May takes to the stage in Birmingham she will likely talk down the odds of an early referendum or perhaps not mention it all. But, behind the scenes, you can be sure the idea is at least being considered.
Labour has already admitted it is making serious preparations for a snap election — it wouldn’t waste time and resources on doing so if it didn’t have good reason to believe an election was imminent.
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