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May’s Election Gamble

Freddy Gray suggests [1] that Britain’s snap general election could be more difficult for May and the Conservatives than many expect:

But this general election will prove much more challenging for May than the polls make out. Her opaque Brexit agenda will come under ever increasing scrutiny, and she will have to face the ongoing problem of the Scottish National Party. Led by Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP wants to use the fact that a large majority voted to remain in the EU as justification for a second referendum on Scotland’s independence from the UK—just two years after losing the first. May has resisted those efforts so far, but if the SNP makes further gains north of the English border on June 8, it will become harder for her to keep saying “now is not the time” for Scottish nationalism.

Labour, moreover, is not as weak as analysts often assume. Corbyn may be daft, and as far to the left of the British mainstream as Bernie Sanders is to America’s, but voters are less and less predictable and Labour’s support is more resilient than many polling firms recognize.

If previous results in Britain over the last few years are any indication, a large Tory polling lead six weeks before the vote doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a large Tory win. It may not have a big impact, but I would think that May’s arbitrary reversal [2] on her pledge [3] not to call for a new election before 2020 has to annoy and alienate more than a few voters. James Forsyth observes [4] that May could be damaging her reputation by doing this:

Much of the May brand, and her appeal, is built on the idea that she is a grown-up who gets on with the job and doesn’t play political games. By going for an election, and especially when the Tories have a record poll lead over Labour, she endangers that.

May’s decision to call for a new election is the act of a supremely confident (possibly overconfident) leader, but if there’s one thing she ought to have learned from her predecessor it is that voters have an odd habit of not cooperating with a politician’s plans. Cameron thought he could use a Scottish independence referendum to bury Scottish nationalism forever, and instead provided the nationalists with an opportunity to become stronger than ever. The No campaign won the vote then, but the nationalists won Scotland and are now angling for a second referendum sooner rather than later. Cameron also thought he could hold an EU referendum to placate Euroskeptics in his party for his own purposes, but never considered the possibility that the referendum would lead to a victory for Leave. In the end, he lost his gamble and then resigned. May’s gamble now is that voters will reward her party with a greatly increased majority in an election that she promised wouldn’t be happening for years. Her gamble may pay off, but recent experience makes it seem more likely that this ploy will blow up in her face.

No doubt May has many advantages going in to the election, including a hapless opposition, and the Conservatives will probably gain some seats. Even so, we shouldn’t forget the extent of popular hostility to the political class that last year’s referendum showed, and if that mood still prevails it could be bad news for the ruling party.

6 Comments (Open | Close)

6 Comments To "May’s Election Gamble"

#1 Comment By Cal On April 19, 2017 @ 1:50 pm

“Corbyn may be daft, and as far to the left of the British mainstream as Bernie Sanders is to America’s”

A phenomenal understatement. As for Labour’s ‘resilient’ support, it has traditionally come from working class voters, the demographic most turned off to Corbyn.

#2 Comment By EliteCommInc. On April 19, 2017 @ 2:14 pm

I read Mr Cowan’s position on this and while it makes sense in a fashion of strategic gaming, I haven’t been able to unfurrow my brows. It was my understanding that she already had a clear mandate on the issue. The first vote in my view clearly settled the question. The observation below by Mr. James Forsyth,

“Much of the May brand, and her appeal, is built on the idea that she is a grown-up who gets on with the job and doesn’t play political games. By going for an election, and especially when the Tories have a record poll lead over Labour, she endangers that.”

is bolstered by her initial opposition to exiting the EU. If I were am British voter and cynical I might suspect her of allowing another bite at the apple by remain advocates disguised as search for support — support she already has by the first vote.

#3 Comment By EliteCommInc. On April 19, 2017 @ 8:13 pm

Neglected to say

“God Save the Queen.”

#4 Comment By amk On April 19, 2017 @ 9:11 pm

On the day May declared her intent for an early general election, it was revealed that the Crown Prosecution Service was considering charging 30 people including MPs over Conservative election expenses.


Successful prosecutions could have forced a series of byelections under a cloud, which could have cost the government its Commons majority, a lost vote of no confidence and a general election with the Tories humiliated and tainted.

From the article: “Home Secretary Amber Rudd told Channel 4 News the prospect of a series of byelections was not the reason the election was called.”

#5 Comment By EngineerScotty On April 20, 2017 @ 10:03 pm

The equivalent to Corbyn in the Democratic Party isn’t Sanders; it would be a Cornel West type figure.

But what of UKIP? Many are pronouncing the Kippers done after the issue that was their raison d’etre was essentially won and then co-opted by the Tories; but many UKIP voters were formerly part of Labour, not the Conservative party–and as Trump supporters in the US are finding, right-wing populist uprisings tend to be absorbed and contained by the pro-business party. Just as Trump is not going to (or be allowed to) produce a renaissance of the white middle class here, no matter how many Mexicans he attempts to deport, I would not expect a rebound of the economic prospects of England’s equivalent.

#6 Comment By StephenKMackSD On April 22, 2017 @ 12:22 pm

Amk provides part of an answer as to the why of the May decision. Though it looks, on its face, as if Rovian political mastermind Lynton Crosby has convinced May to take this gamble.

Remarkably, Corbyn is still in place as leader of Labour, even after the persistence of the Blair faction of the party to unseat him, not to speak of undermining him with an utterly manufactured Antisemitism crisis. And the repeated shibboleth that he is political incompetent, repeated by Larison as a fact. Political insurgencies are unpredictable, and that unpredictability leads commentators to reject what they fail to understand, as an emerging style of leadership not built around something like Reagan’s 11th Commandment.