Prime Minister calls a General Election and everything we thought we knew is now up in the air

 

By Michael Taylor

At a meeting with senior advisors to Prime Minister Theresa May recently we were assured that this was a leader that made careful decisions in the national interest. She doesn’t react to events with an eye on the next headline, but prefers to weigh up the available evidence. Other commentators have expressed the view she tired of the political cunning of George Osborne, Michael Gove and their influence on David Cameron.

For Theresa May, the election is a chance to go to the country with her own manifesto, specifically to be tough on Brexit and tough on the causes of Brexit, inequality, the just about managing working class and to redefine her own brand of Toryism. The circumstances are wildly different to those that emerged out of the coalition government with the Liberal Democrats in 2015. Then, Europe was barely discussed, the Tories kicked that can along the road and promised a referendum they never thought they’d have to hold, let alone lose. Now, Brexit dominates everything. Britain’s negotiating stance, the legislative timetable, immigration policies and most definitely the economy. Better to deal with the politics now, before the economic impact on jobs and living standards.

For the business of government, for the third year in a row, there will be an early summer interruption. The consultation on the industrial strategy green paper will have to wait. The passage of the Higher Education and Research Bill will probably go through, but little else.

For UKIP, it will most likely be a disaster. Brexit has robbed the party of purpose and for all of Labour’s turmoil they seem unable to make inroads into Labour’s northern heartlands. That task is one for the Conservatives.

For Labour, there will be brave talk about winning, but two opinion polls have put the party a full 20 points behind. Recent activity has seen the unveiling of popular policies on free school meals, support for small businesses who suffer late payment and a commitment to the pension triple lock. This is not much different to the platform Ed Miliband lost on, so why not go full-fat radical, a real choice, nationalisation, universal basic income, tax the rich, the full socialist state.

For the Tory campaign strategists, the question is “how low can you go?” There are quotes from Labour MPs about how awful Jeremy Corbyn is. There are pictures of the leader with Hamas, the IRA, striking workers, protest marches and at Cuba solidarity rallies. It will be brutal and at times unpleasant. Push too far and they risk making Corbyn appear the victim, but the prize is to finish Labour off for a generation.

For the SNP, it is another opportunity to make the case for another independence referendum, the never-endum. Another clean sweep of seats in Scotland strengthens Nicola Sturgeon’s hand. Alternatively, a strident pro-Union campaign by Ruth Davidson’s increasingly confident Scottish Conservative Party stops it in its tracks.

For the Liberal Democrats, it is a chance to reinvent their brand, just two years after their dalliance with coalition government wrecked it. They are talking up their prospects of winning urban seats off Labour and rural seats off the Conservatives. Expect a focused and targeted campaign to win about 30 seats in the South West, London and Greater Manchester.

For Labour moderates, this is the harshest of dilemmas. Having failed to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn through a leadership challenge last summer, now they see a chance for him to truly own his own defeat and to prove beyond doubt that the far left are unelectable and for Corbyn to be ousted as leader of the opposition in a process that can start on June the 9th. But in so doing it will risk a wipe out of Labour MPs to levels not seen since 1983 when the party held just 209 seats. For many sitting MPs it is a case of survival and they will fight campaigns based on their own local presence. For that reason, expect to see Corbyn’s face on far more Conservative leaflets than Labour ones. As for their anointed alternative, it all depends who’s still standing. Names being mentioned for a leadership challenge include Yvette Cooper, Kier Starmer and Chuka Umunna. But keep your eye on Wigan MP Lisa Nandy.

For the Metro Mayor elections, these are expected to go ahead as planned on the 4th of May. Were they to be run on the same day, the higher turnout would skew the results in the Conservatives favour. It’s the start of a rebuilding of Labour’s Northern brand under Andy Burnham.

 

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