What does the snap General Election mean for the rest of the UK?
Prime Minister Theresa May’s snap General Election announcement has left the political classes reeling. As recently as last month, Number 10 was pooh-poohing the idea of an early General Election but today’s announcement gives just seven weeks’ notice. Billed as a move to unite Parliament behind the nation’s decision to leave the EU, this will be a strange election with wide reaching implications, not just for the Brexit process, but also for both Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Certainly there are a number of reasons this election makes sense. The current polling gives the Conservatives a 14 point lead that would almost certainly provide a significant majority in the House, compared to the slim majority of 17 which has left the Government vulnerable to rebellions.
This would mean the leadership would be less beholden to the right of the party for support and, equally, less concerned about the impact of the Europhile MPs nicknamed the ‘New Bastards’ who will seek to disrupt the ‘hard’ Brexit process. May will also have the opportunity to present a manifesto, which did not happen during her short leadership campaign, and in doing so establish a mandate for some of her more divisive policy decisions such as the introduction of new grammar schools. How the Conservative messages will be refined remains to be seen, in light of today’s the shock departure by Number 10’s head of communications, Katie Perrior, after less than nine months in the job.
Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats had begun finalising their candidates for the next election in the Autumn, but Labour may struggle to reconcile the surge in Corbynite members with the many sitting MPs who have been openly hostile to the leadership as they rush to (potentially) readopt their candidates. The first Labour MP to announce they were stepping down was Tom Blenkinsop, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, and certainly given the antagonism between the Parliamentary Labour Party and the almost autonomous grassroots movement, the chance of more MPs following suit are high.
The impact on the devolved nations by a General Election could be deeply significant. For Nicola Sturgeon this will feel like a real blow. Current polling indicates that support for independence is less than 45% and, fundamentally, this is the platform SNP will run on.
In 2015, the SNP won 49.97% of vote and 56 of 59 seats – this will be an almost impossible act to follow, and any loss of seats will be identified as a decline in nationalist support. However, May has set out this General Election as a further mandate for Brexit, and consequently, the majority of seats to the SNP will provide just that for Sturgeon.
Northern Ireland, by contrast, is already in a state of unrest, currently locked in a power struggle as Stormont’s main political parties, the DUP and Sinn Féin have yet to reach an agreement on forming an executive, more than six weeks on from the Assembly election. If a deal is not reached then there is a very real possibility of direct rule for the first time in a decade. In March’s election, the unionist party DUP lost 10 seats, and now holds only one more than separatist party Sinn Féin. A General Election will further amplify changes in voting sentiment – should this trend be reflected in the number of Sinn Féin Parliamentary seats, Northern Ireland’s future within the United Kingdom is even more uncertain.
And as for the real winners – perhaps this will be the time for the Liberal Democrats. Their electoral disaster of 2015 following the 2010 Coalition, which many pundits predicted would take decades to recover from, certainly begins to pale in comparison to Labour’s slow and painful implosion.
While Labour’s press office has become notoriously slow and cumbersome, within minutes of the announcement the Liberal Democrats had pushed out leader Tim Farron’s response and put up an election donation page on their website, gaining over 1000 members within the first hour of the announcement. Picking up voters from centralist Labour voters and disaffected Europhile Conservative voters, the Liberal Democrats could become, if not the official party of opposition, a significant resistance to the direction of the future Conservative Government.
Image courtesy of flickr user Tony Kennick