Could This UK General Election Truly Change Every-thing?

About two months ago, the UK was heading for a so-called hard Brexit and at least 3 more years of Conservative rule under the current Prime Minister, Theresa May. Back then, the country’s future seemed predetermined and unchangeable. But the situation has become a radically different one now. Nothing is for sure.

First, the Prime Minister called a snap election, urging voters to give her a mandate over Brexit. But, even then, things did not seem as unpredictable as they have now become. Even with the uncertainty that an election generates, Theresa May’s Conservatives were widely expected to dramatically increase their majority in the British Parliament’s House of Commons.

Promising to pull the UK out of the EU’s single market and to stop free movement of migrants, Theresa May had turned out to be a popular leader. And people seemed to respond enthusiastically to her claims that she would provide the “strong and stable leadership this country needs” in the wake of the decision to leave the EU. Some opinion polls predicted her party could even hit 50% of the vote, while Labour, the Official Opposition, was given only 24% in some polls.

Theresa May has repeatedly said that “strong and stable leadership” is what the UK now needs.

But, since then, Labour has shown a steady increase in the polls. It has been helped by a series of major blows to the Conservatives’ campaign, including changes on policies that had already been announced. They were forced to backtrack on a controversial social care policy, known as the “dementia tax”, and they also got rid of a housing plan that involved building more affordable social housing [1]. And things did not get any better when one of the Conservative candidates was charged over electoral fraud [2].

Moreover, opponents accused them of being in “chaos” over tax plans, after one minister pledged there would be no income tax raises for high earners but the Prime Minister refused to endorse his remarks [3]. Taxation is usually one of the main strengths of the Conservatives, and Theresa May has said that they “always will be a low-tax party”. But in this election, they have decided not to rule out eventual tax increases, while Labour has pledged not to raise taxes to the 95% of people and to cut VAT.

Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer John McDonnell has announced a government led by Labour will not raise taxes for most people. Labour says it wants to build an economy that works “for the many not the few”

Labour, whose current leader is left-winger Jeremy Corbyn, is also running on a platform of policies many of which have emerged as enjoying strong popular support in some polls.  These include raising the minimum wage, abolishing university tuition fees, increasing public spending (in areas such as health and education) and raising taxes on the wealthiest. The party has also revealed “radical” plans to renationalise the mail, rail and parts of the energy industries.

On the other hand, the Conservatives are most confident on the areas of immigration, Brexit and leadership (Theresa May is still more popular than her rival Jeremy Corbyn, although her approval rating has deteriorated recently). The party has promised (again) to dramatically reduce net migration to the “tens of thousands”, the current figure being 273,000. In contrast, Labour have not committed to any specific target and say they recognise the “historic contribution of immigrants” to the British “society and economy”.

On Brexit, Labour stands for a softer approach than the Conservatives, also supporting an end to free movement of people (it says it wants “managed” migration) but not shutting the door to the single market [4]. And, crucially, it has left open the possibility of the UK remaining in the EU if no final deal is reached between the two parts after the negotiations to leave, while Theresa May has made it clear that she is willing to leave with no deal. “No deal is better than a bad deal,” she has said.

If the Conservatives lose their majority on June 8, we could see a softer kind of Brexit, if at all.

But we do not know yet what will be the focus of voters as they head to the polls. If they are mainly concerned about immigration, they are more likely to back the Conservatives. But if what worries them is the underfunding of hospitals, they may be more inclined to back Labour. These two issues (the health service, hospitals or healthcare and immigration or immigrants) are the main problems for Britons, a poll suggests [5].

What we do know is that this election race has become much closer over the last weeks. Theresa May does not seem as invincible as she appeared at the beginning of the campaign and people seem to be scrutinising her more sceptically now [6]. A protest song calling her a “liar” has become viral and hit the number 1 spot on iTunes UK. She has even faced calls to resign over police cuts following the London Bridge terror attack.

Her party is still ahead of Labour in the polls, but the gap seems to be narrowing. One recent poll put Labour just 1% behind the Conservatives. The ruling party can still increase its overall majority at the House of Commons, reinforcing the Prime Minister’s position, and it is unlikely that they will end up winning fewer seats than Labour. But now there is a real chance that they could lose some seats or even lose their overall majority, in which case they would need to try to form either a coalition government or a minority government. But they may well fail to do so, as Labour could turn out to secure more supports from smaller parties. So it is not so clear now that Theresa May will come out as winner and avoid becoming one of the shortest-serving prime ministers in the UK’s history.

References:

[1] Stone, Jon. “Tories U-Turn On Plan To Build More Socially Rented Council Housing“. The Independent. N.p., 2017. Web. 5 June 2017.

[2] Christopher Hope. “Crown Prosecution Service Accused Of ‘Interfering’ In Election By Charging Tory Candidate Craig Mackinlay Days Before Polling Day“. The Telegraph. N.p., 2017. Web. 5 June 2017.

[3] “Theresa May: Tory Tax Plans Have Not Changed“. BBC News. N.p., 2017. Web. 5 June 2017.

[4] Mason, Rowena, and Anushka Asthana. “Labour Would End Free Movement But Not ‘Sever Ties’ With EU, Starmer Says“. the Guardian. N.p., 2017. Web. 5 June 2017.

[5] Campbell, Denis. “NHS Is Most Widely Held Concern Of UK Adults, Survey Finds“. the Guardian. N.p., 2017. Web. 5 June 2017.

[6] Kuenssberg, Laura. “What’s In A Campaign Wobble With Nine Days To Go?“. BBC News. N.p., 2017. Web. 5 June 2017.

Víctor Recacha Benito, estudiant de 2n curs de International Business Economics a la Universitat Pompeu Fabra i col·laborador de Pompeunomics

Deja un comentario

Tu dirección de correo electrónico no será publicada. Los campos obligatorios están marcados con *