Its tough to create a genuine shock in politics today, because to do so often requires to keep a genuine secret – which the gossipy circus on Westminster is not very good at. But Theresa May managed it this week by pulling the rabbit of a general election out the hat on Tuesday morning. Even minutes before the announcement MP’s, Ministers and lobby journalists were ruling out the chances of a June poll, and just two years after the last general election the political world moves on the campaign trail again.
Theresa May’s premiership has so far been hemmed in by circumstances. She has been held back by a Manifesto she did not agree with, no majority in the House of Lords, a tiny one in the House of Commons, and no direct electoral mandate. And things were not going to get easier. Moderate wages are being hit by rising inflation, while the deficit is still around £70 billion a year nearly seven years into an austerity programme. On top of crises from housing to the NHS and social care, she faces the UK’s most complex domestic and foreign policy issue in decades in negotiating Brexit. Finally, expenses issues in the 2015 general election looked like they might end in legal charges against some (mostly Tory) MPs.
On the other hand, she looked at a 20% opinion poll lead and a historic by-election victory over the Opposition in Copeland. It all proved too tempting.
Of course any election is a gamble, but the greater gamble was to try to push on with radical policies in the face of existing problems and constraints until 2020. By holding an election now Theresa May can take advantage of the fact that many people (including many Remain voters) want a strong team to negotiate our exit from the European Union and the deep divisions within Labour over Brexit.
Even if the Conservative lead on June 8 is half of what most current polling shows, Theresa May would end up with a majority of around fifty and, crucially, would have won on her own Manifesto and on her own terms. Most likely, on current trends, is a victory with a majority greater than that. In such circumstances, May will be able to impose her views (like them or not) on a reconfigured political landscape and ride out short term political problems arising from either economic difficulties or Brexit. Theresa May now awaits the verdict of the people on June 8 to see if she will really be able to take Britain in the direction she wants.