May calls General Election: Everything you need to know

Credit Jay Allen, Crown Copyright 2017

What has happened?

Despite her previous pledges to hold the next General Election no sooner than May 2020, the Prime Minister has announced her intention to hold an election on Thursday, 8 June.

Why now?

With the formal negotiations for Brexit yet to begin in earnest and with French and German elections in the coming months, this represented the last prime opportunity to call an election prior to April 2019. The next two months are arguably the most expendable of the Article 50 process. Domestically, Labour is at record lows in the opinion polls, and a strong majority will potentially strengthen Theresa May’s negotiating hand with the EU, but especially so within her own party. On a less important note, she would no longer be an unelected Prime Minister, which has caused her personal unease.

What happens next?

The Government will move a motion in the House of Commons tomorrow afternoon which will need to be carried by at least a two-thirds majority of MPs.

Could Theresa May lose tomorrow’s Parliamentary vote?

The Prime Minister will achieve her required two-thirds majority. Both Jeremy Corbyn and Tim Farron have publicly welcomed the election (the former through gritted teeth), so the motion should be comfortably carried. Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP have struck a different tone but this will still be insufficient to change the outcome.

Will the Conservatives increase their majority on 8 June?

It is overwhelmingly likely that Theresa May will return with a majority larger than the current working majority of 17. There are so many variables at play that there is no agreed Finsbury view, but an examination of the predictions made by senior political and electoral commentators suggests a possible majority in the region of 50-80 seats is achievable.

Are there any risks for Theresa May?

Yes. Firstly, massive opinion poll leads do not always translate into actual seats in a General Election. Although she will be confident of overall victory, expectations are of a Tony Blair-level of success which seems unlikely. If the victory is any less than this, her standing in the party and the country could be dented. Secondly, she has reneged on a clear promise to the weary electorate and her own MPs. Although MPs being disingenuous is not earth-shattering news, Theresa May has built a reputation for being honest, trustworthy and above grubby vote-grabbing. Today’s news almost certainly damages that reputation for being above the fray.

What happens to Jeremy Corbyn?

In usual times, an Opposition Leader who is beaten in a General Election almost certainly resigns soon after – this has happened in every general election since 1987 (the exception of 2005 saw Michael Howard stay on for six months until the completion of the Tory leadership election ). After the election, a likely defeat will lead to huge demands for Corbyn to stand down – from the PLP, the majority of affiliated organisations and the Party’s local government base – but he is not required by Party rules to do so. Whilst the weight of calls for him to stand down should not be underestimated, it is likely that Corbyn’s team will strongly argue for him to stay in post until the Party’s conference in September. Remaining in post until September would allow the hard-left to try and push through rule changes, which would make it easier for another left-wing Leader to be selected – their main priority. It is also worth noting that the majority of the seats Labour can expect to lose are held by moderate Labour MPs – thus strengthening the left in the parliamentary party.

What does this mean for Brexit?

Although the PM has said repeatedly that ‘Brexit means Brexit’, it is not yet entirely clear whether she is ultimately willing to walk away from any proposed deal. Whatever her intentions, a large parliamentary majority gives her a buffer to either push for a hard Brexit or negotiate a more nuanced deal depending on her personal preference.

What happens to the Lib Dems?

This is really good news for party leader Tim Farron because, following the devastation of the 2015 election, the Lib Dems can’t fall much further. It is likely that Labour’s weak position will ensure that the Lib Dems will take seats from them and potentially claw back a few Tory constituencies in areas where people voted Remain. One of Farron’s smartest decisions as leader has been to ensure early selections in key parliamentary seats. He claims to already have 300 candidates in place and active.

What happens in Scotland?

The SNP does not have much to fear from the General Election but they performed so strongly in 2015 there is very little for them to gain. The Conservatives, led by Ruth Davidson, could perform well on an overall share of the vote level although that is not likely to translate into seats.

Will there be televised debates?

For understandable reasons, Theresa May will want to go head-to-head solely with Corbyn. The smaller parties (SNP, Lib Dems) will be very keen as they have the most to gain, as long as they get into the main debate. Jeremy Corbyn will not be keen to do any debates but given his desire to speak directly to the public (away from alleged media bias) it will be hard for him to resist, so we may see the same set-up as in 2015 (i.e. where each leader gets solo studio time).

And finally…what should companies be doing?

Given that the announcement today caught almost everyone by surprise, none of the parties are well-prepared for delivering a policy manifesto. That means a great deal of half-baked thinking could appear in the coming weeks, with potentially the most anti-business tone of any General Election in the modern era. Existing relationships with key Ministers and special advisors will be more important than ever, and engagement should continue until we reach purdah. Every company should be thinking hard about what they would like to see in the forthcoming manifestos, especially that of the Conservatives, and be ready and able to communicate that verbally and on one sheet of paper.