Prime Minister Theresa May has announced that she will be asking Parliament to call a General Election to take place on June 8.
In a shock announcement that caught opposition parties and the media by surprise, May said that the election was necessary to “guarantee certainty and stability in the years ahead” during Brexit negotiations – despite having stated on several previous occasions exactly the opposite.
Labour’s shadow energy secretary Barry Gardiner said this was the first case of a Prime Minister actually “starting a General Election campaign with a U-turn”.
May accused opposition parties of attempting to “stop me getting the job done” and said the election would be an opportunity for the country to vote for the “strong and stable leadership” that job demanded.
However, Fraser Nelson, editor of the conservative Spectator magazine admitted that May’s explanation was “unconvincing” and that the election was being called for party political reasons.
He also suggested that, despite the Tories current 20% lead in the polls, voters might turn against May in view of her previous statements.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn welcomed the announcement. “Labour will be offering the country an effective alternative to a government that has failed to rebuild the economy, delivered falling living standards and damaging cuts to our schools and NHS,” he said.
“In the last couple of weeks, Labour has set out policies that offer a clear and credible choice for the country. We look forward to showing how Labour will stand up for the people of Britain.”
One of Corbyn’s Labour Party critics, Stephen Kinnock, MP for Aberavon, said he thought the Prime Minister’s call for a “united Westminster” was “chilling” and that she was seeking an “elective dictatorship. The only way to prevent that, he continued, was to vote Labour.
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon also claimed that the object of the election was to “move the UK to the right”. She said it would be a chance for the Tories to “force through a hard Brexit and impose deeper cuts”. The party’s leader in Westminster, Angus Robertson, said it would be a straight choice in Scotland between the Tories and the SNP.
John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University said that May was taking a “fair old gamble”. Though the average of all of the latest opinion polls had the Conservatives on 42% and Labour 27% – enough to give Theresa May a “quite substantial majority”, he continued, many of Labour’s seats were safe ones, so Tory gains might be less than May would wish.
He also pointed out that May’s strategy of calling on the electorate to vote for her vision of Brexit could make “some Conservative voters unhappy”.