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May calls snap election

Tuesday 18 April 2017

University of Salford politics and business experts react to Theresa May’s decision to call a snap election for June 8.

Professor Karl Dayson, director of politics and contemporary history, said: “May will be seeking to replicate Tony Blair’s achievement of 1997 with over 400 seats and a majority of 178. This seems entirely possible given current polling. Having won all but two seats in Scotland in 2015, there is little room for improvement for the SNP. A static result will still be a stunning performance.

“Given the historical weakness of Labour, much of the comparison will be with their disastrous 1983 General Election.  According to data from PollBase on the May 9th 1983, when Thatcher visited the Queen, Labour stood at 31 per cent (Mori/Daily Star). In the end they finished with 28 per cent of the vote. By comparison, last week YouGov had Labour on 25 per cent. The party has no clear message on the key issue of the day –  Brexit – and has a leader unable to communicate and connect with the public, and only last Thursday they lost a council by-election seat in Middlesbrough to the Tories. They are reliant on their core voters’ cultural and economic commitment to Labour. This will save them from being wiped out, but not from getting fewer than 200 seats.

“General Election campaigns rarely change the underlying fundamentals, so I would expect a Conservative majority in excess of 150 seats and Labour reduced to less than 200 MPs.

“Only the Lib Dem vote could upset the apple cart and that depends on the election turning into a re-run of the referendum. The clarity of their position means they are well positioned to benefit from any ‘Remain’ voter backlash. A sense of fatigue among the public could intensify, and having been through the Scottish independent vote in 2014, the General Election in 2015, EU referendum in 2016 and now another general election in 2017, I suspect this will suppress turnout possibly below the 59.4 per cent of 2001.“

Dr Gordon Fletcher, Business and Retail expert, said: “Theresa May's call for a snap election on the 8th June is on the surface an attempt to bring political stability and unity to parliament. But Mrs May's speech rapidly descended into a party political broadcast arguing that a vote for the Conservatives will be a vote for certainty in the current environment.

“The politics of this call is very tactical as it goes against her earlier statements to wait until 2020 for going to the polls and as such it puts Labour and - more importantly - the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and the variety of minor parties on the back foot. The gamble is to increase the current small Conservative majority in the Commons and to create a workable situation for an elected Prime Minister. Important credentials on an unstable world stage and in a tough negotiating position with the EU.

“Simultaneous with the election announcement the FTSE responded with a continuing downward slide that started at the morning's opening after the weekend's heightened posturing between North Korea and the US. Currency markets have also become confused and are currently in a general downwards movement against an early morning lift. The business world is showing a distinct lack of taste for even short term uncertainties after the events of last June.

“May's gamble is a straightforward one. If the Conservatives win with an increased majority the ability to pursue their own agenda around Brexit, the NHS and even tougher economic policies is cleared. If the tactic does not succeed the election will almost certainly produce a complex coalition that will create new uncertainties for business, the process of Brexit and at least four years of ever more complex foreign relations with the US.”

Dr Muhammad Amjad, expert in International Strategy, said: “From a strategic perspective, the reality of implementation related pressures is setting in at a time of such a dynamic and turbulent phase in the UK history. The rhetoric of the announcement is unlikely to poor water on the fire that is burning under all this, in particular the SNP referendum call.

“Similarly, the majority needed to go in for strong negotiations with the EU is gradually slipping. Theresa May should have taken this call earlier and the triggering of Article 50 before making this announcement will be seen by many as political manoeuvring and avoiding direct responsibility.

“Business confidence will initially take a further dip in the next month or so but things are likely to stabilize on the hope that the British public will decide more conclusively on who to lead and what to lead for in the context of Brexit. It will continue to show in the weakening of pound against major currencies and will add to uncertainty for businesses that were trying to adapt and face the consequences of hard Brexit. It also opens up the black box, whether Brexit will actually happen and whether the public sentiment is still in favour of a hard Brexit. In the longer term context, it is a correct decision so that the government ticks all the boxes of public confidence and parliamentary strength to enable strong, and singular minded Brexit that is also implementable across all aspects of trade, immigration, and cross border relationships. A right decision, albeit a little late!”

Dr Ben Williams, tutor in politics and political theory: “This announcement is a surprise, given that Theresa May has repeatedly ruled out holding an early General Election since she took over the role of Prime Minister. May has previously argued that in the wake of Brexit and all of the political and economic uncertainties involved, a further general election would be a cause of more uncertainty when a period of stability is arguably required. On this basis, she can be criticised for a lack of consistency, but she has subsequently argued that circumstances have changed over the past year.

“She is effectively 'calling the bluff' of the Labour leadership and putting them in a 'catch-22' position. Key Labour frontbenchers have regularly made calls for an early election over recent months, and would therefore appear inconsistent if they then voted against having one,  seeming to be running scared. However, if this proposed election goes ahead, Labour is predicted to lose it badly, and many of the party's MPs will be fully aware of this prospect, with many of their own seats at risk as a result.

“What will have been a major consideration of the PM is the Conservatives' consistently strong opinion poll lead over Labour since she came to office, with two opinion polls over the weekend giving the party a 21-point lead over their main political opponents. This is unprecedented for a government in its mid-term, and May's own personal popularity ratings massively eclipse those of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

“The Conservatives ultimately appear to be acting in a ruthless and opportunistic manner, and will not have taken such a gamble if they were not convinced that the polls were accurate- both the national ones and their own private polling which will also have been taking place over recent months. They may never have better circumstances in which to secure a firm grip on power, and at the same time cause the Labour Party significant and long-term damage when it appears to be at its weakest and most divided point under a struggling leader. On this basis, this decision could be seen as one driven by selfish party interests rather than national ones.”

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Sam Wood

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