May’s decision to call a General Election has surprised political commentators, opposition political parties and many within her own ranks. The news also represents a u-turn on May’s part given that she has previously said that the government will run for a full-term. With the British parliamentary system, parliaments are expected to run for a fixed term of five years. This can be altered provided that members of parliament vote for the statute to be altered. May will need to seek the approval of parliament in order to ‘go to the country.’
With the current parliamentary session, the last general election was in May 2015. Here David Cameron’s Conservative Party defied opinion polls and won the contest. Cameron was later forced to resign following the U.K.’s referendum vote which led to the U.K. seeking to exit from the European Union. Cameron had backed the side that wishes to remain part of the European Union, portraying the Conservatives as the party of Europe. Following Cameron’s resignation, Theresa May was elected leader of the Conservative Party unopposed. Constitutionally, the leader of the largest Party in the House of Commons becomes Prime Minister (assuming the Party has an overall majority), for the U.K. does not have a presidential system (the head of state being the unelected monarch). At this stage May could have sought a General Election, given the change with the position of Prime Minister, but she declined to do so.
Following this, many Westminster insiders expected May to call an early election but at a later time when she would be able to put firmer plans about the strategy of exiting from the European Union (‘Brexit’) to the populace. This makes the announcement of a June 2017 election all the more surprising.
Explaining her change of of plans on an early election, Mrs May told the BBC: “I have concluded the only way to guarantee certainty and security for years ahead is to hold this election.” Here May appears to be seeking backing to run with her yet-to-be-announced Brexit objectives. This means Europe will be the most discussed topic during the six weeks of campaigning.
One reason for May going to the polls early might well be based on the disorganization of the opposition parties. The Liberal Democrats are still reeling from their time in coalition with the Conservative Party (2010-2015) where the more unpopular policies became associated with former leader Nick Clegg.
The official opposition, the Labour Party, has struggled with factional infighting, with supporters of the Tony Blair wing of the Party seeking to undermine the twice-elected leader Jeremy Corbyn. The situation that the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party find themselves in puts the progressive wing of British politics in a relatively weak state. Other parties of the left, such as the Green Party, have made little progress in terms of election support, since winning on parliamentary seat in Brighton, in the past decade.
With the less progressive section of the British political spectrum, staunchly right-wing UKIP party have struggled in recent polls and are looking for a purpose in the post-Brexit world. UKIP currently have no elected representatives in parliament and, given the Conservatives are invariably saying similar things, the election could signal the end of UKIP as a political force.
The odds are for May and her Conservatives to increase their majority. However, politics is an unpredictable beast and the six-weeks of campaigning could see shifts in the minds of voters as the key question of what the U.K. will be like in the post-European Union world are discussed and debated.