Prospect: Should Theresa May call a snap general election?

Friday, July 29, 2016


Read the original article at Prospect

A panel of contributors share their opinions

Theresa May has only 0.0003 per cent of the vote. That is how Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, put it in Prospect recently (an extract from his recent article for us is included below).

Labour politicians have raised similar concerns about the fact that our new Prime Minister was chosen by the Conservative Party, rather than by the country as a whole. Jon Trickett, Labour’s election coordinator, has said that it is “crucial” that “the country has a democratically elected Prime Minister.”

But others argue that May’s party has been elected by the country, and that her programme is not sufficiently different to her predecessor’s to justify another general election. Alan Renwick, Deputy Director of University College London’s Constitution Unit and contributor to this panel, is among them.

Who is right? Read the contributions from our experts and decide for yourself.

Is May "running scared"?

Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats. The below is taken from a recent article for Prospect by Farron

Prime Ministers are accountable to the country, not just 199 Tory MPs. Theresa May’s coronation surprised many people, even in Westminster, though the last few weeks should have prepared us to expect anything. That now includes a “snap” General Election.

My party has already begun selecting candidates, anticipating that May will go to the country and seek the mandate she and her Government don’t have. And we will hold her to account on the comments she made about Gordon Brown “running scared” from an election in 2007.

Allowing the electorate to choose the direction in which the country goes now is essential. It is ludicrous to allow someone to run the country when only 199 Tory MPs have voted for them—0.0003 per cent of the vote.

A commitment to democracy

Ben Harris-Quinney, Chairman of the Bow Group

It’s a bizarre quirk of British democracy that we have a new Prime Minister by default, perhaps stranger still is that it has been met with broad approval and a poll boost for Theresa May and the Conservative Party. Following last year’s general election, the EU referendum and simultaneous party leadership battles however, there is real sense of “political fatigue” among the general public. Neither Britain, or the markets at home and abroad, want yet another election this year.

Nonetheless, it is inevitable that upon the first major crisis for the May government her mandate will be called into question, and the British government must remain committed to representative democracy. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act diminishes our democracy and should be abolished, and an election within the next three years when progress has been made towards Brexit would make sense.

During this Parliament May can and should demonstrate her commitment to democracy: to the country in honouring the Conservative Party’s 2010 and 2015 manifesto commitment to democratic reform and localism, and to the Conservative Party by phasing in an elected chairmanship and pushing full candidate selection back out to members.

No radical departure

Alan Renwick, Deputy Director of University College London’s Constitution Unit

Theresa May should not call a snap election. Ours is a parliamentary democracy—one in which we choose MPs who belong to parties that seek to form a government. If we wanted voters to have direct control over who the head of the government should be, we could adopt a presidential system. But a quick look across the Atlantic indicates why that would be a bad idea: presidentialism can generate highly personality-driven politics; depending on the wider political circumstances, it can either concentrate too much power in the hands of one person or create gridlock between the executive and the legislature. There is much evidence that parliamentary systems are more stable and more effective. Given that Theresa May was a senior member of the Cameron government and has not departed radically from its policies, there is no reason for an early election at this stage.

Honeymoons don't last

Anthony Wells, Research Director at YouGov

Theresa May should resist the temptation of an early election. Current polls show her enjoying a honeymoon, but the point of honeymoons is they don’t last. Polls that currently show a Conservative landslide may not look quite as rosy in the autumn. The Conservative Party only scraped a majority with a seven point lead in 2015, so need a big lead to be confident of increasing it.

May also needs to learn from Gordon Brown’s mistakes. Her high ratings among the public are based on the perception that she is a strong, no-nonsense leader who will take control of Brexit and get the job done. Putting everything on hold for two months to call a general election when her opposition is having a leadership crisis would risk being seen as an opportunistic diversion, much as Gordon Brown destroyed his reputation of strength by backing out of an election in 2007.