Sub editor of Naked Politics
“The country is coming together, but Westminster is not,” Theresa May barked, raking the assembled reporters with an icy glare. “Labour has threatened to vote against the final agreement we reach with the European Union. The Liberal Democrats have said they want to grind the business of government to a standstill. The Scottish National Party say they will vote against the legislation that formally repeals Britain’s membership of the European Union.”
The reason for this screeching U-turn in calling for an election that she promised she wouldn’t hold, is (allegedly) not capitalising off of the woeful performance of Labour in the polls. She instead blames it on opposition parties who want to hold up Brexit.
But how truthful is this statement? As Yvette Cooper (my money’s on her to replace Corbyn on the 9th of June) pointed out at Prime Minister’s Questions, three-quarters of the Commons voted to empower May to trigger Article 50, and so did two-thirds of the Lords. Unless I dreamed it, I’m fairly sure May was able to trigger Article 50 before her deadline of the end of March. So what exactly is she talking about?
Despite the fact that Corbyn would struggle to organise a piss-up in a brewery, (most of) Labour voted for the Article 50 legislation. In addition to this, considering that Parliament will not get a meaningful vote at the end of negotiations (who needs scrutiny and due process? Not Britain, apparently), the choice would then be between any deal and no deal at all. Surely May’s not seriously suggesting that Labour would attempt to vote down a deal, even one that they considered to be a sub-par and would prefer instead to crash out of the EU?
The Liberal Democrats
The Liberal Democrats could fit their entire Westminster party into a minibus, be able to pick up the local football team, and still have room for suitcases. When May speaks of them threatening to ‘grind the business of government to a standstill’, one can only assume that she started counting and got confused. What exactly does she mean? And considering they’re expecting to gain in this election, she can’t expect us to take that excuse seriously?
The Scottish Nationalists
The SNP have always, and will always, oppose the Tories tooth and nail – there’s more chance of Tim Farron marrying a man than there is of a General Election changing that. It’s not likely that anything will de-throne
the Queen of ScotsNicola Sturgeon, as the SNP hold 54 out of 59 seats in Scotland’s delegation to the UK Parliament. They’re polling 20 points ahead of the Conservatives in Scotland, and the sole Tory MP north of the border will be hard pressed to fight off embittered pro-independence voters. Blaming her about-face on them makes about as much sense as Kate Hoey’s Labour Party membership.
So what’s the real reason for calling the election? Labour has been polling far behind the Conservatives since last year, and that whole time May has been ruling out another General Election, citing ‘stability’ as the reason. So what’s changed since then?
May and her ministers have rowed back from her hard-line stance on the EU since her Lancaster House speech last year: softening their tone on things such as a divorce bill, the jurisdiction of the ECJ and ending freedom of movement. This suggests that she is aiming to make a rational deal with the EU which involves compromise, as deals between two entities must always involve. She has probably realised that with such a small majority in the Commons, she’s vulnerable to the hard-right, anti-EU bloc that makes up a significant portion of her party.
She’s old enough to have seen what happened to John Major between 1994-95, where anti-EU members of his own party contributed to his 21-seat majority declining to just 1 by 1996. Anything short of a Hard Brexit could see history repeat itself and the die-hard Brexiteers in her party defy her Whips. This would either bring her government down, potentially triggering yet another General Election, or could force her to damage her political standing (and sour her relationship with her cronies Rupert Murdoch and Viscount Rothermere) by being forced to negotiate with the opposition in order to get her legislation through.
Gaining a substantial majority, as she looks set to do, will allow her to bring a whole new raft of Tory MPs into Parliament who owe their accession to her and are therefore more likely to back her. It will also bring her a personal mandate and rid herself of those loyalty problems inherent in being a Prime Minister that nobody voted for.
Both of these will enable her to stand up to the delusional Brexiteers who think that the enticing prospect of becoming America’s side-chick, relying on WTO terms, and striking a free-trade deal with Australia are suitable replacements for a partnership of equals with a market of 510 million consumers.