Eight things you should know about the UK snap election
The Corbyn effect forgetting Blair, May’s U-turns and dementia taxes and young voters participation could determine the outcome.
- Wednesday, 07 June 2017
The UK is holding on 8 June its second general election in two years, with a momentous referendum on EU membership on June 2016. Theresa May was nominated prime minister soon after. She could have continued to govern until 2020, that is beyond completion of negotiations with the EU, but felt that she was being sabotaged by the House of Commons on “getting Brexit right,” and in order to get a strong mandate she unexpectedly called a “snap” election.
“To call to a general election a year after we voted for Brexit was absolutely the most terrible way to seek a mandate,” said The Observer’s chief leader writer Sonia Sodha a Guardian debate.
Probably thought that campaigning against Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party, Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party and other smaller parties with each less than four seats, among which the pro-EU Liberal Democrats, the Green and far-right UKIP, “was going to be fairly much plain sailing,” said Sodha. Mrs. May talked the election up to be about Brexit, but then social and healthcare issues and later security relegated Brexit to the back burner, and Theresa May’s campaign has not gone to plan since.
On social and security issues Jeremy Corbyn thrived and the gap between Mrs. May’s astronomical personal ratings and Mr. Corbyn’s dramatically narrowed.
Mrs. May’s Conservatives currently hold 330 seats in the 650-member chamber. Loosing just six seats would mean that they lose the majority. The latest YouGov poll puts the Tory’s lead at just four points over Labour, while ICM has it at 11 points. The Tories remain on course get their victory, but if they fall 21 seats short of the 326 seats needed for a majority, the winning party can either rule as a minority government or rely on the support of smaller parties to pass legislature.
Such a hung parliament would heavily influence the Brexit negotiations. If both options failed, a fresh election would be called — which means that negotiators on the British side would have no strong mandate when talks begin in mid-June. Political shifts, such as Brexit, pollsters say, made it harder to factor in demographics, voter apathy and now also voting fatigue, and this could explain the quite diverging polls expecting for the Tories a majority from north of 30 to even 70 seats.
Why this happened
There is an array of reasons, like in any election, but Mrs. May’s backfiring errors and Mr. Corbyn’s ability to bring up to the public some of the effects of the Conservatives’ austerity policies stand out.
Contenders halted the campaign after the Manchester tragedy for a couple days. Then, Theresa May used her official press conference at the G7 to state that Jeremy Corbyn had said: “Terror attacks in Britain are our own fault. (…) Jeremy Corbyn frankly isn’t up to the job.”
The prime minister taking advantage of her position to play politics with the Manchester atrocity — using what her opponents said was a deliberate distortion of a 2015 Mr. Corbyn’s speech — was seen as her scoring cheap points and giving a veneer of respectability to disingenuous claims, and offered Labour a powerful tool.
Could the Manchester massacre have been averted, being that the killers where all known to intelligence forces? Why were the London Bridge attackers allowed to "slip through the net"? Would police not have been more efficient if she had not forced cuts to the number of police officers by 20,000, or an 18% drop of armed police officers, a number fact-checked by Channel 4, when she was at the Home Office? Mr. Corbyn on Monday promptly called for Mrs. May to resign over her record there.
Mrs. May’s U-turns
In her manifesto she proposed using the vast housing wealth and the assets of pensioners to cover the costs of their care. Quickly dubbed the “dementia tax”, on Monday, Mrs. May announced that care payments would be capped. Another easy argument handed over to Labour was the winter fuel allowance of £300 paid out to millions of pensioners. Labour reckons that such a cut could up winter deaths by 4,000.
Among Mrs. May’s U-turns are, of course, Brexit since she was firmly in the Remain camp; the very June election having she said in March that there “wasn’t going to be one”; resurrecting the opposed Labour proposal to freeze energy prices; and increasing insurance contribution by the self-employed breaking her own pledge.
The Corbyn effect
The more Mrs. May appeared testy, also by refusing to take part in head to head debates, the more Jeremy Corbyn appeared relaxed, chatty and fluent and even willing to take awkward questions in Q&A opportunities from hostile journalists or the public.
When Theresa May on the BBC's Question Time responded to a nurse's concerns over pay in the NHS by saying that there is no "magic money tree" to provide "everything that people want", she handed Labour yet another opportunity to knock her cost-cutting plans for the NHS — like selling off “underused” NHS assets for “a more commercial approach” to health care, or likely making no longer available a painkiller dubbed essential for cancer patients.
The Labour party got also often a handle to point out that every item in the Labour manifesto is costed, whereas the contrary is true in the Tory manifesto.
Turn the page on Blair and listen to Corbyn thinking of Sanders
The FT reports on many who shun the Labour party “because of Tony Blair” who are now coming back because with Mr. Corbyn, “they are beginning to hear policies that resonated with their daily lives.” In the ’90s, with a vision of compromising pragmatism Tony Blair dragged the party to the center. a generation later, Mr. Corbyn is talking about nationalizing crucial industries, abolishing university tuition fees and bringing back to more power the trade unions, with a powerful rhetoric, sort of Bernie Sanders’. Will he be capable of channeling the rage of the left-behind working class?
Jeremy Gilbert, a political theorist at the University of East London said via the FT that there is a constituency who just loves him, but he could “alienate other sections of the electorate”. According to Sodha, “performing well and convincing people to vote for you are actually two very different things.”
Many shades of grey
Labour is closing the gap on Mrs. May because it seems to be doing well with younger voters, a group known for its low turnout that this time is telling to pollsters to be keen to vote. Young turnout will be thus critical.
The conservatives, on the other hand, can count on the over-50 and pensioners, whose turnout is more reliable. Or as a Labour voter put it, “they will sign away their winter heating allowance, lose their family's inheritance to the Dementia tax, and surrender their children and grandchildren's future prosperity to a hardest of hard Brexits, and all because of ‘we've always voted Tory you know’ and ‘that Jeremy Corbyn can't be trusted can he?’”
The EU and Brexit
Matters here are complicated. Most Labour MPs voted to trigger Article 50 to fully respect the will of the British people, even if they were in the Remain camp. Some other Labour candidates are taking a tougher stance, like that of entrepreneur and Labour Party donor John Mills, who chaired the Labour Leave campaign, and who believes that a “hard Brexit” could have a silver lining: a shock that might produce an environment for a reindustrialization and a renationalization of a number of industries.
Some Tories on the other hand, are pushing for a softer Brexit, and if Mrs. May’s lead comes out limited she will not have a free hand to negotiate Brexit “in her terms”, to imposing a “hard” or a “soft Brexit” or a “no deal is better than a bad deal.”
A YouGov survey found that 62% of the people in the UK prefer a reciprocated deal allowing EU citizens to live in the UK, which is what younger voters would prefer; and that 50% believe the UK should stay in the single market. Nonetheless, the polls are seemingly also showing that many in the UK understand that the Brexit outcome in 2019 will not depend solely on the British government, but domestic social, economic and security policies will, and that is what they intend to vote on.
Whatever the result, many observers believe that this election has pushed the UK center ground to the left.