Written by a Conservative member in the North West of England, as part of our general election series.
There has not been a general election for a generation in which the Conservatives have entered in such a high position. With a poll lead of around twenty points immediately after the announcement, even reasonably solid Labour seats suddenly seem like ripe fruit for ambitious Tories wishing to enter Parliament. Some criticism has been made of the call for an election, which runs along the lines that, because the Prime Minister expects to win a large majority, this election is somehow undemocratic. In the absence of Venezuelan-esque ballot-rigging, intimidation of officials and bribery of voters, it is a peculiar argument to suggest that a national vote is an undemocratic process. Unfortunately, the strength of the Conservatives that the opposition bemoan is in part down to their own weaknesses under the figurehead of Jeremy Corbyn.
Superficially then, things look well for the Conservatives. Yet the vote for Brexit could perhaps turn a certain section of society away from the Party, as was recently highlighted by Hugo Rifkind in the Spectator. This is not unprecedented during seismic shifts in foreign policy, as was seen after both World Wars, in the aftermath of the Suez Crisis and indeed during the Falklands War. Tuition fees forgot before a more encompassing grievance, perhaps the Lib Dems will become, as they evidently plan to be, once more the party of the sectional interest. Labour’s division offers an excellent opportunity for Theresa May as long as it exists. However, as Yvette Cooper reminded us the Labour party is bigger than one man when she gave a very commanding performance in the last Prime Minister’s Questions before the dissolution of Parliament. Jeremy Corbyn is a very thin bulwark to protect the government from the talent still on the Labour benches.
As far as UKIP is concerned, what is there to say? The party exists, but only as an empty car careering down a hill: the driver gone, the brakes useless, directed towards the precipice. Can anyone doubt that the party of independence for the United Kingdom is now the Conservatives? Various hapless UKIP spokesmen, not least their luridly-dressed leader, who looks as if he should be kept inside during lambing season, are wheeled out to impotently protest their relevance; that only “believers” in Brexit can be trusted to deliver it.
A number of possible obstacles lurk just under the surface, waiting to spring on the unwary in the midst of the race. The local elections on 4 May have been encouraging, particularly Scotland and the West Midlands, but should the Conservative share of the vote be replicated in the general election, the result would be well below expectations for the Government. Although when local elections preceded the general in 1983 and 1987, the results did not reflect the actual election, we can never be sure. Another worry is the story of possible charges for Conservative MPs facing the allegation of having breached election spending rules last time out.
Though Brexit runs riot across the field of politics, there is a scarlet thread through all – the future of the Union, both north of the border and across the Irish Sea. This will be Northern Ireland’s fourth major vote in scarcely a year. The six counties still without a government following the deadlock at the Assembly after the divisive elections earlier this year. A period of calm and quiet looks unlikely – particularly with Sinn Fein emboldened by Brexit and on the threshold of becoming Northern Ireland’s largest party. An election will not help matters there. Similarly, Scotland now has its own dynamics. The SNP, by far the most dominant party, are faced with a Labour Party undecided on both the greatest issues – Scottish independence and Brexit. As they desperately try and keep their shrinking coalition together. Only the Liberal Democrats – in favour of both Unions – and the Conservatives, for the most important, have clear positions.
This will be the May election. Theresa May does seem to have attained a level of popularity much greater than David Cameron did. With serious gains on the cards, perhaps as many as a quarter of Conservative MPs will be new, and most of them handpicked by Downing Street. This decision, as she has insisted, was hers. The mandate is not for The Prime Minister’s Government, but for the Prime Minister personally. Victory, of whatever complexion (and we must all work for the most comprehensive of victories), will be that of Theresa May alone.