UK general election: May’s mandate

Setting a course for Brexit and beyond 

Thursday, May 18 15:00 UK / 10:00 EDT

Whatever the professed reasons that UK prime minister Theresa May gave for calling a snap general election for June 8, the political logic of her decision is as cold as it is compelling.

The opposition Labour Party is in disarray. The right-wing UK Independence Party (UKIP) is struggling to find a role in the wake of last year’s Brexit vote. May’s Conservatives expect to make deep inroads into the heartlands of both.

Meanwhile, the pro-EU Liberal Democrats can expect only a modest comeback after their dismal showing in the 2015 election. And the Scottish Nationalists reached a high-water mark in 2015 from which they are only likely to recede.

The prime minister will almost certainly get the stronger mandate she seeks than the narrow parliamentary majority of less than 20 inherited from her predecessor, David Cameron.

She would, no doubt, like to top the landslide 144 majority Margaret Thatcher secured in 1983. Local election results earlier this month suggest she may well fall short of that, but it would take a remarkable reversal of fortune over the next three weeks to leave her with anything but a commanding position in parliament.

Whether that will give May, as she has suggested, a stronger hand in the negotiations with Brussels over the settlement of the United Kingdom’s ‘divorce’ from the EU and subsequent trade arrangements is moot. The task will be long and arduous regardless of the size of her majority.

The best that may be said is that the fact that the subsequent election will now not ordinarily take place until 2022 provides her with more leeway for transitional post-departure arrangements and thus mitigates the risk of a ‘cliff edge’ Brexit.

Yet the more determinedly the Conservative government pursues Brexit, the more forcibly the pro-EU Scottish government will campaign for independence from London and a second referendum to back it. It is also conceivable that Brexit could eventually lead to the reunification of Northern Ireland with the Irish Republic.

Beyond Brexit and the possible break-up of the United Kingdom is the question of what the Conservatives want to use their majority to create – a country in the one-nation Tory tradition or one moulded by a radical vision of small government, low taxes and a dismantled welfare state?

And what future, if any, is there for the Labour party? Will UK politics realign?

Join us on Thursday, May 18 to discuss these issues and the other implications of the June 8 UK general election and to put your questions to three of Oxford Analytica’s expert advisors.