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Be Careful What You Wish For, Theresa

24/04/2017 12:44

Any political decision is not without risk but announcing a General Election is the biggest of them all. In Theresa May's case the U-turn over whether to hold one at all is not the best start but her need to silence critics in her own party and an apparently unassailable lead over a feeble Labour Party are just too much to ignore. The opportunities outweigh the risks. But the PM's short term gains may prove an undoing as well.

The victory - few doubt that the Conservatives will win the election. But by setting herself the task of concentrating on Brexit and giving her total control over the deal, she is needs a substantial majority. Anything less than 80 would start to look like a failure and would undermine her position, not strengthen it. The problems in her own party may be solved but opposition will remain.

The opposition
- rather than silencing opposition, the decision to hold a General Election simply emboldens them. Her implicit criticism of the House of Lords was her 'enemy of the people' moment, playing to public sentiment and the political narrative that anyone critical of her approach to Brexit is a denier or holding up the process. Policy is improved when challenged. Worse outcomes happen when this challenge is lacking. Just think Thatcher and the Poll Tax if anyone needs an example. Any thinking that the Lords will simply go silent in the event of a large May victory is at its worst anti-democratic, it is the institution we have, but is really just wishing thinking.

House of Lords reform may look like a real prospect but that has a tendency to be much too difficult and suck time from government. Mrs. May does not have that luxury.

The Lib Dems see this election as their chance for a rebirth. They, just like Labour, have challenges in bridging the divide between their pro- and anti- Brexit voters. But success for the Lib Dems in parts of the country and amongst the young would muddy Mrs. May's attempts to close down opposition.

It should not be forgotten that Parliament will get a vote on the final Brexit deal. That may not be a smooth process.

Labour - Theresa may be the saviour of the Labour Party. How Labour would have continued until 2020 with Corbyn 'in charge' is not clear. The threats of his replacement by some union leaders would have just shown that Labour was under their control and opponents to Corbyn would struggled to have kept quiet for another three years. This is the party's chance to move on swiftly and concentrate on building a broader electoral coalition. Even if the party loses, Corbyn may choose not to step down and instead hail the huge support for a 'genuinely left-wing alternative' across the country as 'just the start'... But he may realise that he is not the leader that the electorate wants.

If Labour does change then it might just be a much more effective opposition.

The future of the UK - the SNP will do extremely well again in Scotland so further increasing the chances of a second independence referendum. Relations between Holyrood and Westminster are likely to get worse and the SNP will continue to cause trouble. They won't go away meekly if parts of England go strongly for whatever form of Brexit the Conservative manifesto contains.

But that is not to ignore Northern Ireland. The collapse of the DUP and rise of Sinn Fein as a genuine alternative for all votes together with the hard border issue puts the future of Ireland back on the Westminster political agenda.

So a May win could make the UK look a very different place.

Europe - leaders across Europe including Donald Tusk will be watching the election closely. But there is the small matter of the French presidential election to contend with first. A victory for Le Pen would make the UK election an apparent irrelevance.

Of course a large win for Mrs. May would enable her to wield more soft power. Tusk meanwhile has said there will no change in the EU's approach. The election decision has enabled the PM to gloss over her initial defeat in how the negotiations will take place. Not a twin track divorce and settlement approach but each in turn as the EU had always insisted upon.

But a far from stunning victory in the election and Mrs. May will be on the back foot in Europe.

As Tim Bale wrote for the BBC, history is on Mrs. May's side in making her election gamble, but no one can ignore the increased unpredictability across the electorate.

We should also not forget the case of David Cameron, an apparent tactical genius in dismantling the UKIP threat and the chances of MP defections by going for a referendum and then securing a majority at the 2015 election. A year later he has been rejected by the voters over Brexit and he no longer had a job. The ultimate hero to zero.

A short term gain can easily be a medium term disaster. The chances of Mrs. May getting a win are very high but it might not be enough.

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