Theresa May wants to frame the June General Election around support for hard Brexit and UK national unity
PRIME MINISTER Theresa May has called for a snap election on 8 June.
Her sudden announcement from 10 Downing street focused on Brexit and what she claimed were opposition parties attempts to undermine a country united behind her plans for a hard exit from the EU.
CommonSpace looks at five key motivations and strategies behind the shock move.
1. The Tories want to consolidate their political dominance
The conservatives have pulled far ahead of opposition parties in consecutive polls.
Theresa May targeted Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National party and members of the House of Lords during her announcement, lumping them together as the anti-Brexit parties.
May wants to establish a fundamental political cleavage in British society between pro and anti-Brexit forces.
“The country is coming together, but Westminster is not,” she complained.
She also wants to consolidate the political right behind her leadership, as UKIP will struggle against a vote for Tory hard Brexit, and rightwing Tory backbenchers will be compelled to respect May’s leadership if she delivers an election victory.
2. An election victory could be used to de-legitimise a Scottish Independence referendum
The Scottish Parliament’s vote to request a the power from Westminster to hold a referendum on Scottish Independence in the wake of hard Brexit created an stalemate over the Scottish national question. May remained intransigent, saying it would not grant a referendum, Sturgeon applied for one in any case and promised to pursue a strategy to acquire one.
The SNP will be under pressure to maintain its historic support from the 2015 election, which saw the party win 56 out of a possible 59 seats. A slip in the party’s support may be used by the Conservatives to argue a public reaction against calls for an independence referendum, and to continue to impose its hard-right domestic agenda.
This is a gamble. If the SNP’s position holds up on a manifesto claiming the right to a referendum this could be seen as a mandate for the SNP to push ahead.
3. The government wants to ‘seal in’ Tory hard Brexit
May said in her announcement that support for the Conservatives would strengthen her position against the political leaderships of the 27 EU countries, and it is likely that her claims to be fighting for British interests in Europe will become a cornerstone of her campaign.
The Tories will also want to use an election victory to claim public assent for hard Brexit, possibly eliminating calls for a vote on the final UK-EU deal, and removing it as an issue in any future General Election. An increased majority would strengthen May’s position in difficult talks ahead.
4. The SNP and Scotland will be used as a stick to beat Labour
May claimed the only opposition to a Tory government was a Labour government backed by the SNP and the liberal democrats.
This echo’s the pitch by then Prime Minister David Cameron in the 2015 General Election, who campaigned on the message that the SNP would be in a position to control Ed Miliband and forward Scottish interests at the expense of England.
During her speech she attacked the SNP for refusing to support Brexit, and warned of a future government propped up by Sturgeon. This will likely become a significant campaigning message.
5. Scottish Westminster parties will face internal chaos in candidate selection
Scottish Labour, the Scottish Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Conservatives have only one MP each, an unprecedented situation for the three once major Westminster parties going into a general election.
In all the parties there will be friction over the rapid organisation of 58 new candidates (fewer if new boundary changes apply for the election) for Scottish constituencies.
This should be less of a hazard for the Scottish Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, who are more united. However, Scottish Labour are in the middle of an internal struggle between Corbyn supporters and opponents and this could bleed into fights over the selection of constituency candidates.
The SNP is also more unified behind the party leadership, but all the party machines will be stretched by an election called at such short notice.
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