The government must focus on negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union. That’s why a general election is the last thing anybody needs.
Back in 2007, in the midst of a third consecutive Labour government, Tony Blair announced he would step down as prime minister, paving the way for one of his closest allies (and rivals), Chancellor Gordon Brown, to take his place. The following three years were turbulent to say the least for the new leader, primarily because of the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis. However, he also had to defend the circumstances of his appointment in the first place, having declined to hold a snap election, much to the dismay of both the opposition and many of his own MPs, not to mention the electorate.
Nine years later and new PM Theresa May is faced with the same dilemma, having replaced David Cameron just a year after he was elected. Despite the topic being rarely mentioned by an opposition frontbench team in disarray, history has not always looked back kindly on previous prime ministers who came into office outside of a general election. As well as Gordon Brown’s defeat, Labour’s James Callaghan ended up suffering a heavy defeat in 1979 that would set back their party’s electoral success for more than a decade.
Looking back at his tenure, calling a snap election in 2007, in which Labour would have likely maintained its majority, should have been one of Gordon Brown’s first acts as prime minister in order to ensure his government had a mandate. Although politically, Theresa May appears to be in the same position, the circumstances of today do not call for three months of further uncertainty for Britain politically.
One of the big concerns about a snap election comes from the rhetoric of EU leaders following the vote to leave the European Union. President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker has repeatedly called for Article 50 to be implemented immediately, a stance echoed by French President François Hollande. Whilst it appears that the majority of European leaders are willing to give the “Brexit” government time to plan and prepare, it is unclear whether this will last beyond early next year.
Just how a general election could test the patience of European governments remains to be seen, especially considering they are under no obligation to negotiate with Britain’s best interests at heart. Additionally, the issue of markets has to be at the heart of the decision. Political and economic uncertainty are two of the most crucial factors in preventing businesses from thriving. Any further insecurity is not going to improve the state of the financial markets and the alarming drop of the pound against all other major currencies. This is especially important considering the speed in which Theresa May was appointed has been a large factor in somewhat reducing the uncertainty that is currently putting off potential investors in the British economy.
Of course the above points are all based on speculation and guesswork. Calling an election may not result in such a chain of events, but the risk is there, and as with the consequences of the Leave vote itself, the big question that needs to be answered is whether the risk has enough of a reward at the end of it to be warranted. One of the main concerns on this matter centres on what this general election would actually achieve, even in terms of democracy. At an election we technically elect the political party, rather than the individual leading it, into government. The leadership change, even for a prime minister, does not change the fact that the Conservatives still have a manifesto to implement, and even though Brexit has resulted in changes to policies such as running a budget surplus by 2020, the bedrock of David Cameron‘s government, such as the “long-term economic plan” that was mentioned so often on last year’s campaign, are still in place.
Mrs May, despite making substantial changes to her cabinet, is a close political ally of the outgoing prime minister. As a prominent member of David Cameron’s front bench, she has been at the heart of much of the domestic legislation put through Parliament in her role as home secretary for the last six years. Therefore, the likelihood of a major restructuring of party policy is minimal and more likely to be altered by plans to leave the EU than her personal political views. Although Gordon Brown was appointed in similar circumstances, with the global financial crisis not developing for another year after his appointment, he had the time that Theresa May doesn’t really have.
Now Parliament is in recess for the summer, it appears unlikely that a general election is on Theresa May’s mind, and the quick nature of her appointment has enabled her to assess Britain’s negotiating position with fellow European leaders. This needs to be her priority at this moment in time, not campaigning for an election. It would be tempting, considering the deep divisions in the parliamentary Labour Party, to call a snap election now, with YouGov polls suggesting the Conservative majority could increase to as much as 100 seats. However, to follow government rhetoric, this wouldn’t be in the national interest, and any plans for an election should, at the least, be shelved in the short term.
If you liked this, why not try:
Who really voted for you, Mrs May?
As a Conservative Party member and someone who actively campaigned for Brexit, I care deeply about democracy. That’s why I think the prime minister needs to hold a general election as soon as possible.
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