Magazine article The Spectator

Theresa May's Party Tricks

Magazine article The Spectator

Theresa May's Party Tricks

Article excerpt

A supposedly cautious Prime Minister has taken a dangerous gamble

Theresa May has long been clear about what sets her apart from other politicians: she doesn't play political games. When she launched her bid for the top job last year, she was clear that -- unlike her rivals -- she hadn't succumbed to the temptations of Westminster. She told us that she didn't drink in the bars or gossip over lunch. She invited the TV cameras into her first Cabinet meeting as Prime Minister to record her telling ministers that 'politics is not a game'.

The danger for May in calling an election three years ahead of schedule is that it looks a lot like game-playing. Has a 20-point poll lead proved too much of a temptation, even for this vicar's daughter?

James Forsyth discusses the snap election with Bobby Duffy from Ipsos MORI and Richard Angell from Progress:

This sense is compounded by the fact that there is no obvious casus belli for an election. May had stressed that the country needed a period of stability -- so there would be no early election, no matter how politically advantageous it would be to her and her party. It is not immediately apparent what has changed. There has been no totemic Commons defeat for the government. The Lords has, so far, backed down on Brexit whenever the elected House has asked it to.

The debate over whether or not to go to the country has been going on for weeks in Downing Street. It is a far riskier decision than the polls -- with their handsome Tory leads -- suggest.

Those close to May point to three important factors behind her change of heart. One is that she wants to increase her majority. Although May has suffered no Commons reverses, she has felt herself hemmed in by the tight parliamentary arithmetic on a whole series of issues. She worried, in particular, about getting all the Brexit legislation through with such a narrow advantage in the Commons. 'It turns out triggering Article 50 really was the easy bit,' remarks one of the few consulted about the decision. There is also a feeling in Downing Street that with the backing of both a referendum and a general election, the House of Lords will find it hard to justify delaying or amending Brexit legislation over the next few years. Then there is May's desire for her own mandate. Until now, her hands have been tied by pledges made in the 2015 Tory manifesto, into which she had minimal input; the document was drawn up by the Cameron inner circle. May's other problem was that whenever she tried to advance her own, non-Brexit agenda, the House of Lords was free to obstruct it on the basis that it hadn't been in the Tory manifesto. The election will solve this problem for her. She'll have her own manifesto to beat the Lords over the head with. Victory will also mean that Nicola Sturgeon will no longer be able to taunt her as an unelected Prime Minister; I'm told that the First Minister's jibe came close to getting under May's skin.

The third reason is Brexit. As soon as May announced she was going to trigger Article 50 by the end of March this year, there was always going to be a dead period in the Brexit negotiations between then and the election of a new German government this autumn. This, as one of May's closest Cabinet allies puts it, created a window for an early election. If May was to go for it, it had to be before September. The thinking in No. 10 is that this election will show the EU that Britain really is leaving and won't change its mind. Perhaps most importantly, it also gives May more flexibility on the timings. I understand that the Brexit Secretary David Davis has been one of the most ardent advocates of an early election, arguing that 'there would never be a better moment' than this. As things stood, the Article 50 deal would have to be concluded by the end of March 2019 -- and then there would be a general election campaign just a year later.

Now, May will have a few years between the Article 50 deal and the general election. …

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