Mrs. May’s Stroke of Political Brilliance and Opportunism
When Prime Minster Theresa May announced the snap election for June 8, 2017, she had one thing in mind—Conservative control. With Labour polling dismally, Mrs. May saw the opportunity to expand Tory control in parliament and avoid the threats of Brexit discontent. With the United Kingdom scheduled to leave the European Union by March 2019, the Tories have a major issue to overcome, but the problem is not insurmountable. Due to Mrs. May’s savvy political posturing, the Tories will suffer little consequence from Brexit’s inevitable shakeups. She may even have the opportunity to become one of Britain’s long-serving Prime Ministers.
With the snap elections occurring during weak Labour support, estimates believe the Tories may gain upwards of 62 seats. This would bolster the Tory’s already sizeable majority in parliament. With this amount of control, Mrs. May could effortlessly execute the Conservative agenda over the next five years. Additionally, she would not face political interdiction from Labour. After Conservative electoral buttressing in the June election, it is unlikely another snap election would be called given the dominant Conservative position. In 2022, when British law dictates the next elections must take place, public opinion will largely have forgotten about the negative impacts of Brexit, paving the way for continued Tory dominance.
To make matters worse for Labour, support for the party has declined under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Labour currently polls 11 to 21 points under the Conservatives. This is major cause for concern as Labour has already gained the swayable support from minor parties such as Ukip, the Liberal Democrats, and the Green Party. Corbyn is often painted as the reason for drooping Labour support. The party’s inherent issues are considerably deeper. Between Labour’s base losing faith in leadership, Labour-leaning independents rarely voting, and the power struggles within the party, Labour will likely put up a miserable performance in the snap elections.
Over the past several years, the Tories have enjoyed political dominance in parliament. More so, the recent local elections throughout England, Scotland, and Wales in early May saw many victories for Conservative candidates. This does not foreshadow a Tory sweep in June, however, because many areas of the United Kingdom did not have any local elections, such as London and several other major English cities. Nonetheless, these local elections would have been the opportunity to voice discontent over Brexit. No such expression occurred.
Brexit and the upcoming turbulence could share many similarities with the political history of the 1980’s in Britain. Due to Conservative Margaret Thatcher’s keen sense of politicking, the Tories remained in power during the early half of the decade as the economy sank to levels not seen since the Great Depression. There were countless riots and crises while the opposition Labour party suffered from internal division and lack of vision. Many of Thatcher and the Conservative Party’s political actions were highly controversial. Strategically, elections were held during times of strong, Conservative support, such as after the Falkland War or the major economic boom of the late 1980’s.
Mrs. May’s decision to call snap elections was a stroke of political brilliance and opportunism. Brexit was not a partisan issue, but the responsibility to dutifully and successfully execute the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union now falls on Tory shoulders. The Conservative party does not want to suffer the consequences of potentially catastrophic political backlash in 2019 and 2020. That could cost the Tory majority in parliament. The consequences could be felt within the party for many years.
If the Conservatives can control political discourse in five years, Brexit will not haunt them. Labour’s failure to control that discourse presently shows no sign of change. Prime Minister May has already shown the ability to foresee, control, and defeat crises head on. She could be leading the government for many years to come, and like Thatcher, has the opportunity to be a long-serving, Tory Prime Minister.