So, it’s a General Election. The Fixed Term Parliaments Act proved as impotent as its opponents had always said it would be. Roll on June 8. After the Scottish referendum of 2014, General Election of 2015, and EU referendum of 2016, this will be the fourth year in a row with an epochal vote for the UK.
One difference between this year’s vote and the other three is that there is no real doubt about the outcome. The only two questions are how massive Theresa May’s massive majority will be and how catastrophic Labour’s catastrophic defeat. In 1923, the Liberal Party won 158 seats — the last time it was a serious contender for government. Can Labour do better than that, and maintain the illusion, just a little longer, that it might one day recover?
Aside from Jeremy Corbyn’s personal haplessness, the three really big reasons the Conservatives will win big and Labour will be gutted are Scotland, Brexit and the economy.
Labour has never won an overall majority in a General Election without winning a majority in Scotland. Yet they only have one Scottish MP at present. And there’s every chance the Conservatives will get more. Under their dynamic leader Ruth Davidson, the Conservatives are now thoroughly established as the real opposition to the SNP.
The SNP will presumably put seeking a second Scottish independence referendum in their manifesto and claim a mandate. Will the Conservatives say there should be no referendum this coming Parliament? Or could they agree to a 2022 independence referendum, once Brexit is out of the way, drawing the SNP’s sting?
On Brexit, Labour remains appallingly split. A rump want to keep arguing for a second referendum. Others want to move on. For the Conservatives, Brexit means it will pick up votes from Ukip, now that party’s raison d’etre is gone. If you want Brexit, vote for the government that’s promising Brexit. What point is there in voting Ukip now?
The Conservatives may even pick up quite a few votes in northern England, where former Labour voters (some of whom may not have voted for several elections) have crossed the Rubicon by voting against Labour in the EU referendum and now might be harvested for the Conservatives.
On the economy, the Tories can claim their policies of the last seven years have been dully effective. We have very low unemployment. Growth has been steady if not spectacular. Things could have been a lot worse – for example if Jeremy Corbyn had been in charge.
And during the campaign, voters will be exposed to the full force of Corbyn’s deranged economic programme and philosophy. There will probably be a series of Tory election broadcasts that do little more than repeat Jeremy Corbyn’s own views in his own words. There’s no need for spin.
One useful thing an early General Election does is to get the Conservatives out of various of the daft election pledges made in 2015. We saw in the debacle of the 2017 Spring Budget how 2015 promises were making policy awkward.
What could go? Obviously they won’t want to continue with the pledges of no change to self-employed taxation or NI. They probably won’t want to pledge to ringfence spending on pensioner benefits any longer, either.
Other spending pledges to keep an eye out for might be commitments on international development and defence. The pledge for these might be combined in some way? Could they be really brave and refuse to pledge to ringfence NHS spending? If they are ever going to get rid of that absurd pledge, a can’t-lose election like this would be the time.
Connected to the above might be migration issues. Surely they can’t pledge to keep net migration to an average of below 100,000 over this parliament? Maybe some modified vague pledge such as promising, by the next election, to be getting net migration “down closer towards” 100,000? They might also promise to end free movement with the EU “by the end of this parliament”. That could allow up to three years of transitional arrangements, giving May some helpful wriggle room in the Brexit talks.
We can pretty much bank on May getting a majority greater than 100, perhaps north of 150. With no opposition worthy of the name, she will have full freedom to do whatever she likes domestically for the foreseeable future. Time for all those right-wing think-tanks to flaunt their wares. The UK could look a very different country by the time all this is done.
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