This article was first published in Reaction
Theresa May’s decision to call a swift General Election took everyone by surprise, except those who know her well. For some time those closest to her have been weighing the pros and cons of an early election. Mrs May was sceptical about the desirability of asking people to go, once again, to the ballot box, but the Prime Minister is strong and confident enough to be able to listen to an argument and change her position if she feels it is necessary. Theresa May is a careful and thoughtful leader, but unlike Gordon Brown whose dithering over whether to call an early General Election sealed the fate of his chaotic and pointless Premiereship, she has not allowed herself to be boxed into a corner. It is a good example of the adroitness and flexibility necessary in all successful leaders.
Theresa May’s thoughtfulness has resulted in decisive and resolute action. Her care and determination over decision making and her resoluteness once a decision has been made are two of the Prime Minister’s finest qualities. She is a strong leader, but not a dogmatic one.
Outside of Westminster there has been little appetite for an early election. Indeed poll after poll has demonstrated the country’s general satisfaction with its new Prime Minister. At Westminster however things have been different since the referendum result. Parliament has been scratchy and unsettled. The political landscape has fundamentally shifted but many Parliamentarians in both Houses have been struggling to come to terms with the new reality.
Partly this is due to a referendum and Parliamentary democracy being two concepts that clash with one another. In part due to the very different results in Scotland and England. In part too to the unelected and unaccountable House of Lords being completely unrepresentative of the prevailing political mood. There was also the issue of the 2015 Conservative manifesto. A manifesto to which the government was morally bound as the platform on which it had won a General Election, but one that had in fundamental respects been superceded by the referendum result.
The need to strengthen the Prime Minister’s hand in the long negotiations and to establish that unique bond a Prime Minister has with the British people that can only be forged in the white heat of a General Election victory meant that an early election, on balance, seemed to be the sensible and positive way forward.
A victory for the Conservatives will not solve all the challenges the Prime Minister faces. If the SNP do well again in Scotland, for example, Nicola Sturgeon may feel her anti-Brexit hand is strengthened. On the face of it Labour has serious credibility issues and the Liberals could well benefit from its weakness. The composition of the House of Lords will not change, and it maybe necessary to include in the Conservative manifesto a pledge to increase the number of Peers in the short-term to overcome the formidable opposition the government faces there. The need for a further election in 2019/2020 cannot be ruled out to ensure passage of whatever legislation is needed to ensure a smooth Brexit cannot be discounted. The June maybe just the first of two Brexit General Elections we see before the decade is out.
Clearly however the Prime Minister is right when she says this election is essentially about the leadership we need over the next few years as Brexit is negotiated and the business of the country at home is conducted.