Just when it seemed as though normality was returning to British politics, Theresa May backtracked on her promise to not call a snap election in momentous fashion. When May called for announcement at 11:15am on 18th April, no one really knew what she was going to say; news reporters were scrambling around like headless chickens prior to the announcement. Having previously promised not to call a snap election, the Prime Minister strolled out to her podium with ease and announced a general election will be held on 8th June.
During her speech, May used the word “reluctantly” a number of times when describing her thought process in calling the election. The word reluctantly would imply that the calling of an election was a last resort for the PM; however, the circumstances within British politics haven’t changed since the referendum- apart from the triggering of Article 50 in March, which was expected anyway- leaving many to wonder why now, of all times, is the right time to call for an election. Sceptics of the PM have claimed that she is cynically, and tactically, taking advantage of the enormous advantage the Conservatives hold in the polls over a Labour Party that is still in disarray. May has been reluctant to deny these allegations when questioned by reporters.
This election, whilst less compelling and less enthralling than the one that is currently taking place in France, still offers the public a clear choice for the Britain they want over the next five years. The Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems), Green Party and United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) are effectively dead and buried for this election under the current voting system the UK employs. The Scottish National Party (SNP) offer the public a different vision for Scotland, but the party has said nothing for in regards to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Conservatives and Labour are offering the United Kingdom vastly different alternatives on which way we should proceed in the times that lie ahead.
The Conservative Way
Theresa May is hard to get an answer from. Time and time again she has evaded interviewers such as Andrew Neil and Robert Peston whilst following her own script. May uses an implication method when answering questions; she uses this method primarily not to give any details away on policy and Brexit negotiations. When May gave Andrew Marr a direct answer last year saying that she would not call a snap election, it was both a surprise and an indicator as to how skilled Marr is as an interviewer. In order to gain a higher popularity, it is clear that May must start answering questions in a direct manner; the primary reason for this is to gain people’s trust at a crucial time. A secondary reason why May should switch answering styles is because Brussels recently stated that almost all the documents linked to the Brexit negotiations will be published due to the fact that other EU member states will have to sign off on all aspects of the process. If 10 Downing Street was to release this information ahead of Brussels, it would be better received amongst the public and Parliament.
May’s personality has been compared to Margret Thatcher’s- an uncompromising, steely PM who encouraged patriotism to soar in the 1980’s. Whilst May certainly possesses some of those traits, she is not as cold as Thatcher once was. May’s patriotic personality and her promise of a “strong and stable” leadership are contributing factors as to why her party holds a 13 point lead, according to a recent YouGov poll.
In terms of policy, May is a traditional Conservative with a slight modern twist. She is a one-nation Conservative who believes that the collective strength of the Union will help heal the open wounds left by the EU referendum. May has already rejected a formal request from Nicola Sturgeon for a second independence referendum for Scotland, with her reason being that “now is not the time” for another disturbance to Westminster’s already turbulent atmosphere. May has consistently said that she wants a “Britain that works for everyone.” She has developed the image of herself pursuing social justice, although very little has been done so far on that front. The main work she has done is on domestic abuse; she is overseeing new laws on domestic violence though the Domestic Violence and Abuse Act. On welfare, May has overseen and will continue to oversee (if she wins) austerity measures, with the most significant being the transformation of the NHS; hospitals have been closed and beds have been cut in an aim to reduce the bill that the NHS is currently racking up due to an ever-demanding society. On defence, May is no different from Cameron as she strongly supports Trident; a renewal vote was passed through the House of Commons with ease in July.
Economically, May differs a little from her predecessor. May has promised to uphold the current promise to spend 0.7% of our GDP on foreign aid. She has promised that VAT will not rise, but has refused to rule out an increase in National Insurance and income tax. May has vowed to tackle the ever-rising energy prices by capping them; this policy fits in with her vision for a “Britain that works for everyone” quite nicely. May has previously stated that she will cut corporation tax the lowest level of any G20 country. This policy is aimed at offering British businesses support ahead of the upcoming Brexit talks, where May has continually stated that “no deal is better than a bad deal.”
The main area that will undoubtedly occupy the highest priority in the Conservative’s manifesto is Brexit. May has stated that we will not be able to stay in the single market, but hopes that a trade deal will be reached. Her main priority is regaining control of our borders, as she intends to press on with her promise to reduce immigration to tens of thousands. May has consistently said that she wants to remain allies with Europe and the EU, but a recent speech attacking the bureaucrats of Brussels will only harm relations before Brexit negotiations begin. Other aspects of her foreign policy are traditionally British; she strongly believes in the ‘Special Relationship’ between the UK and USA, evidenced by her early and successful visit with Donald Trump. In her aim for a bolder, more ambitious and influential Britain, May is seeking to reaffirm alliances with Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia; she is also aiming to rekindle the flame with Commonwealth countries in the form of a trade deal. Whilst all of May’s foreign policy will gravitate around Brexit, it is clear that she wants to build a global Britain.
A Labour Party in disarray?
When the snap election was initially called, polls were predicting that Jeremy Corbyn could suffer a defeat worse than former Labour leader Michael Foot. The polls have since picked up for Labour, but are still showing them behind the Conservatives by a considerable margin. The party itself appears more united than it has previously been over the past 18 months, however it is clear that there are still underlying wounds that have not been resolved.
Corbyn’s personality is examined and analysed in a previous post of mine that feels like it was written centuries ago. He is a man filled with passion, desire, and empathy. He is pragmatic and adaptable in interviews; he is the polar opposite to Theresa May. Whilst this election does not provide us with firepower, it does provide us with distinguishable choices. Corbyn’s and May’s voting records- the indicator of what a politician truly believes- could not be more different. Their vision’s for Britain could not be further apart. Whilst May appears to be focusing on the global Britain, Corbyn’s policies (that have been released) appear to be focusing on the severe domestic issues our country faces.
Labour have released a blitz of domestic policies that are designed to win back the working class who have defected to UKIP in recent years; these policies are also designed to gain popularity through their appealing nature. Corbyn has proposed four new bank holidays, with each day falling on St. George’s Day, St. Andrew’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and St. David’s Day; Corbyn says the policy will give people “more time with their families” and he believes that it well help unite the Kingdom. Corbyn also rightfully points out that the UK has a low number of public holidays compared European countries. Another domestic policy that Corbyn has proposed is the building of one million new homes, to try and tackle the affordable housing shortage the country faces. Corbyn has also promised to introduce 10,000 more police officers to our streets; originally it was seen as a positive proposal, but following Diane Abbott’s horrendous “car crash interview”, Labour have been accused of not costing their policies up. Other domestic policies that Corbyn has proposed are the capping of school classroom sizes and the extension of free school meals to all children. On the welfare front, Labour have been heavily critical of the Conservative’s austerity measures. They are promising to reverse the £22 billion cuts and the impending closures of 19 hospitals and 24 A+E centres.
The economy is seen as Labour’s weak point; a recent Conservative poster ripped into Corbyn about his proposed tax increases. Corbyn has identified Labour as the party “for the many, not the few.” He has promised low taxes on the low and middle class families, whilst promising to scrap the proposed cut to capital gains tax. Additionally, he has vowed to increase the top tax threshold. Corbyn has promised to introduce a £10 minimum wage, which he calls a “real living wage.” He believes in renationalising the railways and energy companies, however it remains to be seen as to whether he will press ahead with these personal objectives. Along with the Conservatives, Corbyn has vowed to not rise VAT; this meshes well with his vision of a Britain that works “for the many, not the few.”
On the biggest issue of this election, Brexit, Corbyn has a slightly hazy stance. Some Labour MP’s have made it clear that they believe a second referendum should be held, however the leader himself has accepted the fact that “Brexit means Brexit.” Whilst he does accept that we will be saying goodbye and farewell to the EU, he has different aims from the negotiations that we will embark upon. Corbyn believes that we should be able to remain in the single market and he is looking to secure the rights of EU citizens living Britain, along with the rights of UK citizens living in the EU. His foreign policy stance, unlike May’s, does not revolve around Brexit; Corbyn is not afraid to put the niceties to one side when it comes to foreign leaders- he has been heavily critical of Donald Trump for his comments about women and he has been extremely vocal about Saudi Arabia and their human rights violations. On the issue of defence, Corbyn has made it clear that he does not support Trident; however he has not proposed an alternative solution to keep Britain defensively prepared as tensions mount between America and the East.
So, who wins?
A very recent YouGov poll predicts that the Tories will secure 48 points in the election, with Labour on 29 points. Whilst it is extremely likely that the Conservatives will win the election, it is possible and plausible to think that Labour will do better than expected and secure around 35% of the vote. Under Corbyn, Labour have introduced a few attractive policies that will no doubt be revisited in years to come. However, the main issue for voters thinking about Labour is how will they afford all these expensive policies?
May looks set to secure victory on 8th June, which will in turn give the PM her own mandate and strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations which will swiftly follow the election. A global and ambitious Britain seems more attractive and appealing than a domestically sound one at this moment in time, but who says we cannot have both? He may be virtually beaten, but do not sleep on Corbyn and Labour in the coming month; his proposed future for a socially strong Britain is appealing to many.
And just as the last year has proven, anything can happen in politics…