The Prime Minister did not actually just call an election. She can’t do that because of the Fixed Term Parliament Act which requires two thirds of the House of Commons to approve an early election. It is however a momentous statement, coming so soon after being very clear she would not do so.
Theresa May has blamed the opposition in its various forms: the Lib Dems, Labour, SNP and the Lords. But her consistent 20+ point poll lead can’t have hurt. Brexit is of course the dominating factor in the coming election but it will also offer the opportunity to throw out some inconvenient and out of date manifesto promises from 2015.
The test is now on Jeremy Corbyn. He has said he will support an election, and he’s been vociferous in his belief he can win in 2020. We will now see if his theory that the out of touch media are not reporting his strength correctly. But there will be a number of Labour MPs who are this morning wondering whether they will still be in the Commons after June 8th. Labour’s position on Brexit has been less than clear and they’re likely to be all at sea over the next few weeks as they seek some way to placate their two main constituencies – the liberal metropolitans who voted remain and the working class north who voted leave.
The Lib Dems have been straight out of the pits saying this is the chance to change the direction of Britain. It’s been their position to halt Brexit and that looked like a forlorn one until this morning, Brexit likely to be a done deal by 2020. But with Tim Farron keen to snap at the heels of Tories in the South West and Labour in metropolitan areas, we can almost hear them popping the champagne corks.
Nicola Sturgeon has done her best to run rings round Theresa May and now the Prime Minister has returned the favour. The Tories will be hoping to take a few seats in Scotland, with Ruth Davidson very popular, but tactical voting by unionists will be the name of the game if any seats are to change hands, since the SNP won most of their 56 seats with close to half the vote in those constituencies. The SNP will also wonder, if now is not the time for a referendum, why is it the time for an election? The nationalists will in any regard love this, as it gives them the momentum to keep up their campaign for independence. Theresa May is either not worried, or is more of a gambler than we have realised.
So what will happen on June 8th? Brits have not traditionally looked kindly on Prime Ministers who wake them from their slumber with snap elections. Just see Zac Goldsmith for evidence of that. But what is the alternative to a Tory Government? First past the post means the Lib Dems can pile up votes but not do overly well. The SNP are trapped in their own world of independence and can only add perhaps one or two seats. Labour are already close to their bottom, but could lose a few more.
So will much change? Can the PM convert that 20 point poll majority into a meaningful majority in the Commons? The sense is the country supports her, and the people are by and large content for Brexit to happen, but the parliamentary arithmetic makes it difficult to change her majority too much. In truth that doesn’t matter. After June 8th she’ll still be PM and therefore have the mandate to negotiate Brexit, despite the grumbles.