A Guide to the British General Election: Part 1

2 mins read

By Nathan Tipping

Prime Minister Theresa May sent shockwaves through British society last Wednesday when she announced plans to call a snap general election in June of this year. Having previously ruled out a snap election a number of times, the announcement understandably came as a surprise to many. This is a brief guide summarising May’s motivations for calling the British public to the polls on 8th June 2017.

So…errr, why call an election at all?

Dissecting a politician’s reasons for doing anything is often a messy business. When it comes to the case in hand, however, the motivation could not be more clear cut: May thinks she can win, and win big.

Since the Labour Party elected their new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, in the wake of their 2015 general election defeat, they have increasingly fallen behind in the polls. With the Conservatives storming ahead of Labour by around 24 points, May senses an irresistible opportunity to establish her own mandate and knock the bulk of the opposition out of action for the foreseeable future.

In her announcement last Wednesday, May stated that the election provided an opportunity for Britain to unite, providing security and stability throughout the impending Brexit negotiations. May currently lacks her own mandate, having instead taken office following David Cameron’s resignation in the aftermath of the EU referendum. Unsurprisingly, the 2015 Conservative manifesto did not include a detailed plan in the event that Britain voted to Leave, meaning that May has so far been acting on her own accord in terms of Britain’s relationship with the EU. Commanding a strong majority will give the Conservatives wriggle-room if the impending negotiations with the EU go awry, and will essentially act as a green light for May to pursue her own vision of Brexit.

May’s motivation for calling a snap election is also fuelled by issues beyond Brexit. Arguably more important is May’s desire to shore up support for her domestic policies. With a current majority of just 12 MPs, May has been struggling to galvanise support amongst her own party for her more controversial policies at home: grammar schools, tax increases and education reforms. The current government is still tied to the Conservative’s 2015 manifesto commitments, many of which directly contradict May’s plans. Victory in June will allow May to truly ‘own’ her term as Prime Minister, and forge her own domestic policies.

Cynics have also noted that, had May failed to call an early election, her majority would have been under threat anyway. A number of Conservative MPs currently risk losing their seats due to an ongoing investigation into electoral fraud during the 2015 general election. The allegations relate to overspending in a number of target seats throughout the last election, and it remains possible that a number of Conservative MPs may face criminal charges in the near future, possibly even before the election. There are currently around 30 cases of electoral fraud under investigation in Conservative seats across the country, with 14 police forces having already submitted files to the Crown Prosecution Service. Nothing is set in stone yet, though an early election would allow May to dodge the hit in the polls that criminal charges against her own MPs would certainly result in.

Is there anything else to watch out for?

Voter fatigue — though how this will actually impact the result is difficult to predict. The past few years have seen the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the 2015 general election, the 2016 EU referendum and the March 2017 Northern Irish elections. With the UK-wide local elections in May, it is not unlikely that the electorate will be fairly sick of voting by 8th June.

Typically, low voter turnout hurts Labour the most. With Corbyn as leader, this issue will certainly be amplified. Yet for the Tories, this is a double-edged sword. A few Conservative MPs have warned that many people are so certain that the Conservatives will win, that it is hard to motivate them to vote at all.

The attitude of the British public can perhaps best be summarised by this voter’s concerns…

Part 2 will discuss the likely result for each main party, their main campaigning issues and how the outcome will affect for the direction of British politics.

By Nathan Tipping

Banner Photo: Flickr CC

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