UK General Election briefing
Prime Minister Theresa May very unexpectedly this morning announced that she intended to seek a General Election on the 8 June this year. The news came as a complete shock to Westminster including most of the Cabinet who only found out at this morning’s meeting. The Prime Minister has previously been adamant that she would not call an early General Election and under the Fixed Term Parliament Act she will need two-thirds of MPs to vote for the election (434 MPs). However, given that the Leaders of the Labour, Lib Dem, SNP, Plaid Cymru, UKIP and the Northern Ireland Parties have indicated they will back the election the motion is sure to pass. Many Labour MPs fearful about their seats might be inclined to vote against, but would only do this if they thought they could succeed in blocking it, as they would not want to show they were scared of an election.
A boundary review had been underway which would have reduced the number of MPs by 50 and equalised the constituency sizes. This would have seriously harmed the Labour and Lib Dem Parties (and wiped out the Green Party) but by holding the election now the existing boundaries will be used. A Parliamentary by-election is due to be held in Manchester on 4 May and this is now in doubt. The returning officer says it will go ahead but as Parliament will cease to exist at the end of 2 May there is nothing to be elected to. If it does go ahead the winner will not be able to take their seat unless re-elected on 8 June.
Theresa May’s purpose in calling the election is to give herself a clear mandate to negotiate Brexit, as she says the other Parties are seeking to cause division. She has also stated that she expects no negotiations on Brexit with the EU before 8th June, but that they will start shortly afterwards. If the opinion polls are in any way correct and are maintained until after the polls close, then the likelihood is that the Conservatives will indeed increase their majority in the House of Commons quite considerably. However, assuming Labour campaigns against a hard Brexit, it is also possible that many people will vote against the sort of hard Brexit she and many Conservatives seem to be pursuing. It is, therefore, unlikely that the other parties will accept her mandate even if she finds passing legislation in the Commons easier.
While the polls point to big Conservative gains at the expense of Labour and a small recovery for the Lib Dems, this masks some big shifts in political opinion in the country. Given that this election will primarily be fought on Brexit, the pattern of the Brexit vote will be significant on the outcome. Even in areas where there was a majority for Brexit, there is a significant Remain minority and if the Lib Dems can attract all of those votes in areas where Labour are running a Brexit candidate (it seems likely in Brexit area that this will happen regardless of their manifesto) then under the first past the post system they can win, even with a minority of the vote if the Brexit vote splits between Labour and Conservatives. Regional differences will be strong also. While we expect some minimal change in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland (where we would expect the SNP to take almost all the seats again) England will be a different matter. In Northern England and the Midlands Labour expect to have a very hard time holding marginal seats against the Conservatives although they may be saved from a total wipe out because they have a large number of very safe seats. Labour may also come under pressure from the Lib Dems in some large Northern cities. In the South West, the Conservatives are already dominant, but although they have no seats there now, it is a former heartland for the Lib Dems, and they expect to make some gains. South East England is likewise Tory-dominated, and while the Lib Dems may pick off some of their former seats such as Lewes and Eastbourne, the status quo is expected to stand, unless the London effect spills out into Remain-voting Surrey but this is likely only to affect a few seats such as Guildford, Woking and Mole Valley.
However, the really interesting battle will be in heavily remain voting London where the Lib Dems are very optimistic of outperforming their poll ratings. In their former heartland seats in South West London where they recently won a Parliamentary byelection, and they expect to take back all five seats (they hold two now with the byelection). Likewise, they expect to take back Simon Hughes North Southwark and Bermondsey seat (where he is again standing), but given the huge anti-Brexit sentiment in Central London a huge number of Labour seats across Lambeth, Southwark, Islington, Hackney, Haringey, Camden and Brent are now vulnerable despite huge majorities. London opinion polls have recently backed up some of these movements, and people in both Labour and Lib Dem parties have confirmed to Kreab that there are some significant shifts in voting intention happening. It does, however, remain to be seen if this results in seats changing hands given the very large majorities Labour has in them at the moment.
Assuming the motion passes Parliament will be dissolved on 2 May (see full timetable below). Before that happens, there will be what is known as a wash-up session in which any outstanding legislation is considered. The respective whips offices look through what is left in Parliament and anything that is controversial falls. However, where there are pieces of legislation that can be agreed on those will be pushed through. In some cases, this can mean that partial Bills go through where all the controversial parts are deleted, and the agreed portions passed.
It is already clear what some of the parties are planning their campaigns around. We are also already hearing about the intentions of some key politicians about standing. These positions will inevitably develop over the coming days and weeks.
Conservatives – The Conservative campaign will be to gain a mandate to negotiate Brexit, as they will put it for the whole country. They have already made it clear that they intend to paint those arguing against their position as seeking to divide the country. Significant candidate announcements: Although it was known that former Chancellor and pro-Remain campaigner Ken Clarke intended to stand down in 2020 however he may now fight again to be in Parliament during negotiations. Former Cabinet Minister Michael Gove has confirmed he will stand. Transport Minister Simon Burns will not.
Labour – While this election is clearly about Brexit the subject is difficult for Labour as they are partly divided on the issue, and their voters are extremely divided on the issue with the Party finding itself representing both the most pro and anti-Brexit constituencies. It is also not Jeremy Corbyn’s inclination to fight on that ground, preferring instead to stand on an anti-austerity and anti-cuts platform. Some significant candidate announcements: former Cabinet minister Alan Johnson has announced that he will leave Parliament although fellow Blairite and former Deputy Leader Harriet Harmon has declared that she will be a candidate. Middlesbrough MP Tom Blenkinsop has confirmed he will not stand.
Liberal Democrats – The Lib Dems will be pushing all out to capture the Remain vote running a campaign that is almost a one issue one. The surge in membership since this morning’s announcement has seen them go through the point at which they now have over twice as many members as at the last General Election. Some significant candidate announcements: former Cabinet ministers Vince Cable and Ed Davey will stand for their old seats and while it has not been formally announced former Employment Minister Jo Swinson confirmed to Kreab that she would likely stand for the Scottish seat she narrowly lost to the SNP last time if the boundaries remained similar (and they are unchanged).
UKIP – The UKIP pitch is to keep the Conservatives feet to the fire. However, it is clear that in the light of Brexit they are struggling to find a purpose. Significant candidate announcements: Having said he would stand in a snap general election in South Thanet, former Party Leader Nigel Farage is said to be indecisive. The Party’s largest donor Aaron Banks has said he will stand against former UKIP MP, now independent, in Clacton, however as Mr Banks is not currently a member of the party he may also be an independent candidate.
SNP – The Party are intending to run a campaign to get the electorate to lobby on behalf of Scottish interests in the Brexit negotiations arguing they are the only party that has only Scotland’s interests at heart. Significant candidate announcements: Despite saying she may quite Parliament Paisley MP Mhairi Black has confirmed she will stand.
19 April – Vote to dissolve Parliament and call a General Election
Following Prime Ministers Questions (which takes place after lunch) MPs will vote on whether to give their permission to hold a General Election. Because of the fixed term Parliament Act, there needs to be the agreement of two-thirds of the MPs. This amounts to 434 (meaning more than 100 non-Conservatives must also agree). The leaders of the Labour and Liberal Democrats have signalled their agreement to vote for this; so it will pass.
2/3 May – dissolution of parliament
Parliament will be dissolved on the 25th working day before the election, which will be one minute past midnight on Wednesday 3 May, so will in practice, take place on the evening of Tuesday 2 May. Campaigning starts
4 May – Local Elections & By Election in Manchester Gorton
Local Government elections and a by Election for the parliamentary constituency of Manchester Gorton already scheduled to be run. As things stand, the latter parliamentary election will run, as it has been called already, and it is too late to cancel it. However, the winner will not be able to take their seat and will have to stand again in the general election.
12 May – deadline for candidate nominations
The latest possible deadline for candidates to file their nomination papers is on the seventh working day after the ‘writs’ are issued – this should be the 12th of May.
- May (Midnight)- deadline for voter registration
The law says registration for voters should close 12 working days before the date of the election
- May – potential deadline for postal votes
Likely deadline for postal votes
31 May – potential deadline for proxy vote applications
Likely deadline for proxy vote applications
8 June – Polling Day
*This article was written by KREAB UK