May Calls for a General Election. What She Wants is a Second Referendum

Never trust a politician, eh? After nine months of saying that there will not be one, Theresa May has changed her mind and will, under the terms of the Fixed-term Parliament Act, move a motion in the House of Commons tomorrow calling for a general election. She needs a two thirds majority. She dared the Labour party to vote against - her new mantra: “politics is not a game”.

Within minutes of her surprise announcement, Jeremy Corbyn welcomed the decision. The challenge was accepted. There will be a general election on June 8th.

In the first poll published since the statement, YouGov's showed a 18 point lead. Labour is on a miserable 26%.

Although she said that an election is in the national interest, it is difficult to know exactly what circumstances have altered to change the prime minister’s mind. She has faced opposition from the Lords and other parties, but she has not be defeated in parliament. How far this is cutting and running before the UK economy hits hard times will be seen. Whatever, it is difficult to see this as anything but an opportunistic move.

Will that matter? Probably not.

this will be a vicious general election campaign

It would be a foolish commentator who predicts that she will lose. The reverse, the likelihood is that she will win and she will win big. Nine months into her premiership, Theresa May remains popular personally; her party has consistently been in the low 40s in opinion polls. Over the Easter weekend, two further polls showed record leads for her party. The post-referendum Tory vote is pretty solid. It survived an NHS crisis and a budget u-turn. Jeremy Corbyn's Labour may be producing popular policies - as did Ed Miliband before him - but the party is in a worse position than at any time in its history. Worse than 1983 which is saying something.

And this will be a vicious general election campaign.

“Disunity at Westminster” (which May referred to) is a slippery and unpleasant argument. Opposition, scrutiny and debate is what democratic politics is about. However, in the post-referendum climate it may capture the mood of Brexiters. Since the Brexit vote Theresa May has a pool of 52% to play with. She is canny enough to do that.

Tim Farron, the Lib Dem leader, has said that this is the last chance to stop a “hard Brexit”. It is true that the Conservative's pollings shows that there are risks of losses in the South West and South West London where they were previously strong.  May will batter them as opponents of democracy. Despite the Lib Dem surge, evident in Richmond and local by-elections, May obviously calculates that the risks of losing some seats in the commuter belt to Tim Farron is more than made up by gains her party can make from Labour across the country.

Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn, whose poll numbers are absolutely dire, will be battered by his previous statements of support for Hamas, Hezbollah, and the IRA. Every day, voters will be reminded of previous outlandish positions he has taken; MPs, who recently voted as having no confidence in his leadership, will be asked whether they want to see him as prime minister. The huge danger for Labour is that, saddled with this unpopular leader, their vote share will sink further as the campaign progresses. This is what Labour members voted for.

The evidence from Copeland is that the Tories, aided by a flailing UKIP, can make in-roads in parts of the country where they have not previously been competitive. Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has seen a further collapse in working-class support. Seven years of opposition have been wasted.

Remainers need to come up with solid and convincing arguments

Theresa May has already framed the debate: since she became Prime Minister she has avoided economic instability; she has formed “the right plan” for Brexit. “There can be no turning back,” she said, sounding as much like Margaret Thatcher as she could. Opponents will be hammered endlessly as being against the will of the people.

Those are her lines. She will repeat them relentlessly. If nothing else, Theresa May has discipline. Remainers need to come up with solid and convincing arguments against her because this election is not about having a debate about the right course for Brexit but ensuring that she has a parliamentary majority to avoid debate.

Both sides are well-resourced and anything can happen in two months. However, Jeremy Corbyn will have to make the biggest comeback in political history to even be in contention. There is no evidence to suggest he has the temperament to do.

He will also have to battle the same campaign that Ed Miliband did of only being able to form a weak administration with Scottish Nationalist support. The difference is that May will be doing so with one majority behind her party, and the prospect of a larger one ahead.

Opponents of Brexit have long called for a second referendum. Now they have one.

More about the author

About the author

Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).

A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.

Follow Graham on Twitter.

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