When Prime Minister Theresa May called for a snap election in April, that is now scheduled for the 8th June, many people were shocked. May had previously stated that she would not call a general election, and in line with the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, the next election had not been due until 2020. Thus, there has been a lot of speculation regarding the Prime Minister’s reasoning behind her decision, as well as about how the election results will affect the country.
With the triggering of Article 50, beginning the process of leaving the European Union, only in March, the main issue of this election will undoubtedly be Brexit. Indeed, May has announced that her reason for calling the election was to secure a majority that would allow her to effectively engage in Brexit negotiations. This has also led many to speculate that the election in June will effectively be a second referendum, with voters opting for candidates who align most closely with their views on Brexit. Although this will do little to change the outcome of the referendum – although the Lib Dems and have called for a second referendum on any deal made between the UK and the EU – it may alter the extent to which the result is a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit.
Another notable feature of this year’s election – despite the fact that it’s the third time that the British public will go to the polls in only two years – is that Theresa May has stated she will not take part in any TV debates ahead of the 8th June. This has sparked criticism from Lib Dem leader Tim Farron calling for the planned ITV debate to continue with an ‘empty chair’ in the place of the Prime Minister. Subsequently, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has announced that he will not appear without Theresa May.
‘Voter fatigue’ is another concern of many. After the 8th June, British voters will have gone to the polls three times in two years, twice for a general election and once for a referendum. There is concern that this will lead to widespread disillusionment with politics. And if voter turnout is low, can the winning party legitimately claim to have a mandate moving forward into the Brexit negotiations?
May has called this election – apparently – to secure a larger majority in Parliament that will allow her to negotiate more effectively with the EU over the next two years. It is true that a larger majority will reduce the influence of a minority of Eurosceptic backbenchers that are pushing for a hard Brexit, involving complete withdrawal from the single market. But Brexit shouldn’t be the only issue under scrutiny by voters ahead of the election. Jeremy Corbyn, publicly unclear on his stance on Brexit, has launched the Labour campaign with a focus on public spending, namely the NHS and schools, on which Labour are consistently in a stronger position than the Conservatives to debate. LGBT issues will also be a focus, with Tim Farron recently coming under scrutiny for declining in an interview to state whether he thought homosexuality was a sin.
Although the recent local election results – with Labour losing hundreds of council seats, many in former strongholds – may go some way to forecasting what will come after the 8th June, the recent track record of polls puts any sort of prediction into question. But one thing is for sure: this election will be about Brexit, and its result will go a long way to defining Britain’s approach in the upcoming Brexit negotiations.