As Theresa May’s shock announcement of a snap election on June 8th rocks the nation, we must consider the factors and potential consequences of this ‘out of the blue’ decision. Is it May’s stroke of genius or a fatal miscalculation? Whatever the case, it is clear that May is prepared to roll the dice and gamble on her current stable position.
With the Tories recently amassing a 21point lead according to numerous polls, it is easy to slip into the narrative that this election has been called simply to increase their majority and give the Prime Minister a clear mandate. While this is true, many other factors must be taken into account.
The election arrives in the face of heated conversation between Sturgeon and May about a second Scottish independence referendum, with the SNP claiming a mandate has been delivered by the Scottish people who voted nationwide to Remain in the EU. Another challenge to Brexit has been laid out by the Liberal Democrats; they are the only party campaigning on an Anti-Brexit message and have repeatedly called for a referendum on the final deal when we leave the EU. The Lib Dems have been gaining support recently and polled at 31% in Manchester Gorton, in a seat where they only won 4.2% of the vote in 2015.
With Labour in disarray and with Conservatives polling higher than them even in Scotland, May’s decision to hold the election seems justified. She hopes to decimate the Labour heartlands in the North, by playing on the emotional value of Brexit and the claims no other party wishes to follow it through. More importantly however, if the SNP were to lose seats in Scotland, if they lose their absolute monopoly on the country, it would deeply undermine Sturgeon’s attempts for independence and give May the opportunity to refuse a referendum.
Furthermore, shortly after the announcement, Channel 4’s Michael Crick broke that the Crown prosecution service was investigating, and possibly bringing charges against 30 Tory MP’s for electoral misconduct. This announcement has been nicely buried under the news of a snap election, suggesting careful planning by the Conservatives designed to limit damage as much as possible.
This has all the signs of a masterstroke by the Prime Minister, it has the potential to extend the Tories majority to the biggest in years, possibly even beating the Blair landslide victory of 1997. It can also take the limelight off an embarrassing scandal, while giving her an increased mandate for a hard Brexit and to refuse a referendum in Scotland.
However, the Conservatives must be wary. A strong youth turnout could turn the election on its head. Those in the 18-24 bracket voted overwhelmingly for Remain, but didn’t turn out in the numbers of their older generations. In light of Brexit however, interest in politics amongst the youth has risen and we could potentially see one of the highest youth turnouts in years. This could see a return to the big stage for the Liberal Democrats. As the only party running a specific referendum policy, they can galvanise huge support amongst the 48% who voted Remain. The Labour Party, while experiencing decreased support overall, is popular with an idealised youth who are tired of Tory cuts, extortionate tuition fees, shoddy schools and an overworked NHS and has the opportunity to put forward clear policies and gain back voter confidence during the profile of the election. If this scenario occurs, a surprise result could occur and the Conservatives would have jeopardised their three remaining years in power on a miscalculation. The most likely scenario is that it will depend on voter turnout. If the 18-24 and 24-35 brackets turn out in force, the election could be much closer than expected. However if the voter turn out is along the lines of the Brexit vote, a huge conservative majority is to be expected.