Poll vault: British Prime Minister announces elections on June 8

Vidya Ram London | Updated on January 15, 2018

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May speaking to the media outside 10 Downing Street on Tuesday.   -  REUTERS

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to the media outside 10 Downing Street, in central London, Britain.   -  Reuters

Move may consolidate Theresa May’s grip on power post Brexit

British politics took another dramatic and unexpected turn on Tuesday, as Prime Minister Theresa May announced plans to hold a snap general election on June 8.

“We need a general election and we need one now,” she said as she accused opposition parties and the House of Lords of “political game playing” and sought to explain a reversal of her previous statements that had declared that there should be no general election until 2020.

She said that she had “only recently and reluctantly” concluded that a general election was needed before detailed talks on Brexit commenced later this year, essential for ensuring parliament was behind her as they went further into the process. “The country is coming together but Westminster is not,” she said, adding that the divisions in Parliament would risk Britain’s ability to succeed at Brexit, from which she said there was “no turning back.”

Caught off guard

May’s announcement caught many off guard: when news that the Prime Minster was due to make an announcement broke earlier on Monday, many believed it was unlikely to be one of a general election because of her previous insistence that no election would take place before 2020, with some even suggesting that resignation was a possibility.

Holding - and winning an election - would enable May to address one of her biggest weaknesses — often pointed to by critics at a time that Britain was meant to be ‘taking control” by exiting the EU.

Unlike her predecessor David Cameron, May was not elected as Prime Minister, but came to the position after Cameron’s potential successors pulled out.

It will also enable her to set her own policy agenda rather than be bound — at least to a certain extent — by the electoral platform Cameron (who, like May campaigned to remain in the EU) built in 2015, the year before the Brexit referendum.

May differs from Cameron on a number of issues — ranging from education (she is championing the introducing of selective secondary school education) to immigration (she is far tougher, and has insisted on keeping international students within the migration figures, despite pressure for her to change this).

However, it will entail a number of political gambles. Firstly, while recent opinion polls have put May comfortably ahead of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, polls at the time of the previous election (and referendum) proved fairly unreliable indicators of where the result was heading.

There is also a chance that the elections could see the resurgence of the Liberal Democrats - whose parliamentary presence was greatly reduced .

Liberal advantage

Polling on a by-election due to take place next month in Manchester suggests that the Liberal Democrats have made big strides, and potentially pose a threat to Labour dominance in the constituency.

Should the Scottish National Party also hold onto their strong domination of Scottish seats in Westminster that could also be seen as a validation of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s call for a second Scottish Referendum — though if they lost ground it could strengthen May’s insistence that now was not the time for a referendum.

Legislation that came into effect in 2011 requires fixed term parliaments and elections every five years from 2015 onwards, though a clause under it enables Parliament to be dissolved (triggering an election) if a two-thirds majority in the House of Commons agrees to it.

May said she would be bringing a motion to the House on Wednesday, with opposition parties indicating that they would support the motion. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn welcomed the decision to hold an election, which he said would give “the British people a chance to vote for a government that will put the interests of the majority first.”

“Labour will be offering the country an effective alternative to a government that has failed to rebuild the economy, delivered falling living standards and damaging cuts to our schools and NHS,” he said.

Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats who have campaigned for a referendum to be held on the terms of Brexit, said the election proved a chance to change the country’s direction.

“If you want to avoid a disastrous Hard Brexit. If you want to keep Britain in the single market. If you want a Britain that is open, tolerant and united this is your chance,” he said.

Published on April 18, 2017

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