Theresa May Announces Surprise Early Election for June 8

Theresa May announced early elections. Other observers had thought snap elections were unlikely earlier but some stars aligned to change the calculus:

Labour is particularly weak and divided right now; elections early are an opportunity to deliver a crushing blow.

Brexit popularity is at a recent high, so that will help shore up the Tory position.

May would get her own mandate.

First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon has tried to throw a curveball with the threat of a Scottish referendum, which Sturgeon was pushing to take place in 2019. Even though May has the power to say no, that move would hurt the Union and help the SNP. Given the Brexit timetable, the SNP’s timing for a referendum would have been 2019, which was uncomfortably close to the originally scheduled Parliamentary elections in 2020.

However, there are side effects:

A bigger Tory majority means the party has the luxury of being more internally divided. That may not be a plus as Brexit is revealed to be a losing proposition for the UK.

The campaign will distract the already too detached Tory leadership from Brexit duties.

From the Financial Times:

Theresa May said she would ask Parliament to hold a general election so she can win a direct mandate to take the UK through the Brexit divorce with the EU.

The decision, which comes just three weeks after the prime minister began the formal Brexit process, stunned many British politicians as they returned from their Easter break…

Mrs May had previously said categorically that the next general election would be held as scheduled in 2020, and many Conservative backbenchers had shown little enthusiasm for a vote. “It isn’t going to happen. There is not going to be a general election,” her spokesman said on March 20.

Mrs May blamed opposition parties and the House of Lords for stalling her agenda and weakening her negotiation position with the EU. “The country is coming together but Westminster is not,” she said. “Division in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit.”

There’s not much informed commentary yet. If I am still up and some comes in soon, I will update the post.

Update 7:10 AM:

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  1. Sean

    May is going for June 8th because the mentats reckon Le Pen is going to win May 7th, making the EU no longer viable with Frexit.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      If Macron makes the second round, that is very unlikely. 1:1 polls give him a huge margin, way beyond what could be compensated for by shy Le Pen voters and a margin of error, save a wild card like a terrorist attack.

      Mélenchon has emerged so late I don’t think there are any relevant 1:1 polls for him v. Le Pen.

      And separately, the idea that Le Pen can deliver on her Frexit promise is either at best uninformed and may be Brexit booster disinformation (I see you making essentially the same comment at the start of two separate threads. This is a violation of house rules).

      It has been widely discussed that Le Pen will not in fact be able to achieve a Frexit due to the lack of sufficient Front National representation in Parliament. See this analysis from a month ago:

      A victory by far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the French elections in May is seen by many investors as potentially fatal for the euro and even the EU itself….

      However, according to economists, political scientists and constitutional experts, implementing these promises could prove difficult.

      Could Le Pen radically reform the EU from the inside?
      National Front officials insist France is a top-tier EU member and cannot be ignored. It would be possible to secure reforms to the euro, free movement of people, or primacy of EU law.

      “France is a founding member — we are not like the UK or Greece. When we stamp our feet, people are going to listen,” said one senior party figure…

      Others scoff at the idea she would succeed in fundamentally changing France’s relationship with the EU. They point to the failure of the UK to win any meaningful reforms before a Brexit vote and to the radical nature of FN demands — the end of the common currency and free movement of people.

      Since France’s EU partners are unlikely to agree to dismantle the bloc, any referendum would be likely to become a plebiscite on leaving the EU….

      Could Ms Le Pen hold a referendum on ‘Frexit’?
      It is not impossible, but it is unlikely.

      France has a written constitution that states that “the Republic is part of the European Union”. So a “Frexit” would require a constitutional change.

      Under Article 89, any constitutional change needs to be proposed by the government, not the president. Then it has to be approved by both the upper and the lower houses and then either by public vote in a referendum or by a majority of 60 per cent of Congress.

      This means that, if she wanted to call a referendum, a President Le Pen would need a majority in the June legislative elections. “She would need a huge majority,” said Philippe Cossalter, a law professor at Saarlandes University.

      The FN needs to win 289 out of 577 parliamentary seats in June for a majority, up from two at the moment. The party only has two seats in the 348-seat Senate, where elections for half the chamber are due in September.

      1. vidimi

        i am thrilled at mélonchon’s chances but see him as the one candidate tptb in france would unite against to stop. they would prefer le pen.

        even were he to succeed, everything about the euro and french society would conspire against him. big business would fight a coordinated war against him and EU rules would leave him unable to fight back.

    1. RBHoughton

      MPs today are a particularly mindless bunch of schoolboys, mostly there for the fun, sex, booze and money and delighted to have the whips direct their votes for as long as the party lasts.

      TM can rely on the MSM to deliver the population to the polling booths in hope of change. She should get a mandate with the official line “There’s no-one else who can save the country”

  2. PlutoniumKun

    I was surprised she hadn’t gone for one at the end of 2016. I don’t think it looks good for her, it will look opportunistic, while an earlier one could have been sold as seeking a personal mandate. And she still (if I’m not mistaken) will need a 2/3 majority to call it, so she could face the embarrassment of not getting assent for the election.

    I find it hard to see the logic of going for one now, apart from gambling that Labour is at its weakest point. She is actually in a strong position because of the small size of the Tory majority – that makes it harder for troublemakers. With a large majority she might find it harder to keep the party in line, and there is always the chance of losing.

    But it does make me even more angry that Corbyn has so badly mishandled Brexit. He could have taken a principled stance and made sure May owned a hard Brexit, but by being so weak on the topic Labour simply doesn’t offer a reasonable alternative apart from saying they’d negotiate it better. Centre left Remainers in England) now have no real electoral home – the Lib Dems are shot, and the Greens aren’t a real alternative in most constituencies. Labour are far too divided now to have a realistic hope of winning.

    1. vlade

      Corbyn managed to kill Labour, w/o creating any realistic alternative – because if he burns in the elections (assuming they happen), it’s not just Corbyn that burns, it’s some of his ideas that have merit that burn – and may be reluctant to pick it up for years. TBH, Corbyn at the moment seems to be the best thing that could happen to Tories..

      1. windsock

        No, Blairite MPs refusing to work with Corbyn after he was elected twice with a huge public mandate, killed Labour.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      One of my buddies who said he has very good High Tory contacts was very insistent last year that there would be no early election. The big reason was party coffer related: elections cost money and I gather British parties, unlike their US counterparts, are not in fundraising mode all the time. The other reason for assuming no early election was that even though the Tory majority in the Parliament isn’t large, it was large enough.

      And I agree with your point re a small majority being better for the leader of a party with decent internal discipline than a large one. Internal opposition will prove harder to manage, particularly if Brexit keeps going in the direction I recap in our Brexit post today.

      1. vlade

        I got the same via my contacts re early elections, especially the cost. We can safely say this took most people by (a large) surprise.

      2. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Yves and Vlade.

        I have heard the same about the timing and coffers from former colleagues who are Tory activists. Also, the troops are often elderly and exhausted.

      3. PlutoniumKun

        I would have thought that any money argument would apply to all the political parties, none of them are exactly flush with cash. But with the Tories it may be that the Brexit issue would lead to lots of awkward conversations during fund raisers. Some big Tory donors are of course hard line Brexiters, but some are also big City of London businesses which would be less enamoured with whats going on.

        Maybe something more will come out on whats been going on within the Tory Party, but I can only assume that the motivation for this is that May sees this as a once in a lifetime opportunity to really destroy Labour. I’m not sure they are actually bright enough to look at all the other second order implications, not least for Scotland and Northern Ireland. It seems they haven’t learned the lessons from Camerons huge gambles – this strikes me as a huge shot in the dark, one that could backfire seriously not just for the Conservatives, but for the entire UK. It could lead to it breaking apart entirely. It certainly leads to a possibility of things spiralling out of control in Northern Ireland.

        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, PK.

          It won’t be the first time that the Tories have f’d up over Ireland. Scotland, name checked by May in the statement, may follow a century after Ireland.

        2. vlade

          NI question definitely makes it more interesting, as it’s quite possible that more than few of the hard-brexit NI Unionist MPs may now lose their seats, given what happened in NI elections. I wonder how glad they are May called them..

      4. Harry

        That was my impression as well. Which makes me view this as a poker tell. I think May has just woken up to how disastrous Brexit is going to be to the Tories.

    3. Clive

      It does make some sort of sense in so far as, before the Article 50 trigger, any election would have ended up as a “Brexit referendum, let’s have another go” whereas that has changed to more of a “What sort of Brexit do you want?”

      In terms of Brexit roll back, there is the Lib Dems so I suppose the electorate do have a choice that is reasonably mainstream. But that is, as Yves would say, nah gonna happen (this sounds better with a NY-influenced accent than it does in my plummey English, I include it for the benefit of our US readers to illustrate the implausibly of it coming to pass).

      For Labour to have ever tried to set their stall out as an anti-Brexit bulwark I don’t think that was ever going to be a viable option. They’re never going to win over swivel-eyed Daily Mail readers. So they need every working class UKIP’ers vote they can get their hands on. They are (just watching Corbyn now) apparently promising a soft Brexit, so they might pick up some Lib Dem defectors.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I don’t see that Labour had to go out and campaign against Brexit. They could just have said ‘we respect the vote, but we have not changed our view that for all its faults, membership of the EU is the best for the unity of the UK. We will campaign in the next election for the closest possible relationship with our neighbours, including continued membership of free trade and free travel zones’. They will not of course change the minds of hard core Brexiters, but they are not a majority. There was a real opportunity there for Labour to position itself as the ‘sensible centre’, without actually compromising on any left wing and progressive policies. In my opinion, Brexit presented Labour with a once in a lifetime opportunity to offer itself as both left wing and progressive, and also as a sensible and pragmatic alternative to the lunacies of the Torys and the incoherencies of the Lib Dems (or put another way, an SNP for England). But they blew it.

        1. Darius

          Sensible center is Hillary or David Milliband. They lose real nice. Maybe Labour needs an Obama, a neoliberal with a personality cult.

          1. Colonel Smithers

            Thank you, Darius.

            Labour had Phoney “things can only get better” Blur.

            I say had, but it may be better to say have as the long suffering UK taxpayer has to pay for the armed guards outside his London pad.

            Bliar owns two small castles near where I live. A couple of summers ago, there was a small fire at one of them. At the same time, there was a fire at a nearby farm. The underresourced firefighters went to the Bliar manor. The locals soon wised up as to who matters in the locality.

            1. Darius

              Blur had them fooled until he went too far and fell for W’s penchant for getting people to kiss his ass.

              1. Colonel Smithers

                Thank you, Darius.


                One wonders how he would he have handled the autumn of 2008.

          2. PlutoniumKun

            I didn’t mean sensible centre in terms of policies, I meant it in terms of appealing to people who consider themselves fairly apolitical and around the centre in most policies – which is probably the majority in most countries. When it comes down to it, most people don’t spend time on economics blogs or arguing about politics, they vote for the party that seems to be least likely to rock the boat too much and will deliver something (no matter how small) to them.

            For years now the right have perfected the art of portraying themselves as pragmatic and competent, while actually proposing very radical policies and implementing them badly. The left has allowed itself to be portrayed as having some nice ideas, but not being realistic or practical. Bernie Sanders I think is one of the few who have managed to sell left policies as common sense and realistic – the SNP have also managed to do that in Scotland.

            My point is that Brexit offered Corbyn and the Labour party the opportunity to claim the mantle of being safe and moderate in comparison to the crazy radicalism of the Tories – and to do it without compromising on key policies and ideals. In my opinion, it was a huge gift handed to the left in Britain by the Tories, and the Labour Party was too inept to accept it.

            1. Darius

              Labour is either a working class party or a Bliarite mush. May is using Brexit to destroy the NHS, and other institutions that support the working class. If soft Brexit means defending NHS, then so be it. There is no going against the will of the voters, who have made themselves clear. It’s obvious to them that the EU in practice has meant rule of, by and for German banks.

            2. reslez

              Corbyn was never going to be recognized as a safe and moderate anything. His economic policies guarantee the most vociferous opposition on random, spurious grounds. You keep pointing at Brexit as the reason to dislike him, but that’s not what motivates the depictions of him as extreme. The parliamentary party and the Blairite brigade deserve the blame for that. The real question is whether he could have got them on board without compromising on core principles, and to be perfectly honest I doubt it.

          3. Harry

            To chime with Carthago delenda est, Blair must be hanged.

            You can imagine what I think of Miliband.

        2. vlade


          I had a look a the Stoke and Trent by elections, which was the “Brexit Capital”, but when you look at the voter numbers, UKIP+Tories had a vey comfortable Brexit majority. Unless a lot of SaT Tories voted remain, then it’s actually likely not that many Labour voters voted leave – it’s much more likley, that those who wanted to vote leave already left for UKIP and weren’t Labur votes to start with. There was a similar situation across a lot of other Labour seats, after all UKIP got 12% of the national vote in the last elections.. And that entirely ignores the fact that leave camp voted leave for an n+1 reasons..

          1. Clive

            But why would a Labour policy of soft-Brexit be any more attractive to Remainers than the Lib Dems reversal of Brexit? If you are a Remainer, and that is the issue which is going to determine your vote, you’ll vote for a party with a Remain policy.

            Parties with squishy middles tend to end up running soggy bottoms. Centreist candidates are not exactly flavour of the month right now. Electorates do seem to be tired of being cynically manipulated by infinite degrees of infinite nuance in terms of policy. Just ask Jebbie or Hillary.

            1. vlade

              Because you know that youd LD is unlikely to get in, so soft-Brexit is a better choice.
              I’m not arguing for Labour to go Remain – it wasn’t in PK’s post.

              But there’s a brexit and there’s a brexit. Labour could have gone “we understand that you voted leave because no jobs, no housing, no NHS – and while we want a brexit that will help to address some of that, we also want to address those primary issues too – and hardest of hard brexits will make that impossible, and your situation worse”.

              1. Clive

                There’s absolutely nothing to suggest why, for every Remain’er vote a soft-Brexit Labour Party might attract, they won’t lose a Brexit’er to either the Conservatives or UKIP. They might, just might, gain a net surplus of floating Remainers over floating Brexiters, but it’s not going to be enough to make any difference especially in view of how the UK electoral system works.

                And if you want cynical, then a stance which says we’ll take Lim Dem voters who don’t really want a Labour government but will vote Labour because they’re promising a (hoped-for) really soft Brexit that isn’t (they might try to convinced themselves of) a Brexit at all — well, that just about takes the biscuit. It’s this sort of calculating, strategizing let’s-see-what-Ada-says-we-should-say-this-week politics that drives people to the Tories and UKIP. What they offer may be crap and class warfare, but at least it is conviction crap and class warfare.

                1. vlade

                  my point is that they already lost all the floating Brexiters the election before. Unless they would turn into another hard-brexit party, they won’t get those back regardless.

                  Right now Labour is neither fish nor fowl nor a good red herring.

                2. PlutoniumKun

                  I don’t think its a case of trying to attract votes from Brexiteers or Remainers. Those arguments are gone, and those who are in their bunkers will never shift, whether on the right or left. But I do think that a very substantial number of people – probably a majority, are not in bunkers, but are deeply worried about the personal implications of Brexit. Lots of ‘soft’ Brexiteers are suddenly realising that they may lose out personally. There was a huge opportunity in my opinion for Corbyn and the left to reach out to the ‘soft centre’ and offer an alternative to the radicalism of the Tory Party, without compromising on their other policies.

                  1. Clive

                    But then aren’t you back with vlade’s argument (and I think he and I are arguing what amounts to the same point but from 180 degree opposite poles, me complaining about anything that looks like a “super-squishy soft Remain”, him complaining about anything that looks like a “super-squishy soft Brexit”) — Labour becomes neither, as he puts it aptly, neither fish nor fowl?

                    If the country really — and I mean really — wants to Remain, then they can champion the Lib Dems (who should run as a single-issue party, nothing wrong with doing that in this instance) and see that the Lib Dems get, if not a workable majority, then a sufficient number of seats to have a loose coalition with the SNP to revoke Article 50. If it means that much to people, that’s what can happen. Getting 30 or 40% of the turnout in each constituency (note the emphasis, it’s summer — or it will be — and getting the vote out to put real pens on real, actual ballots is going to be key) for the Lib Dems isn’t such a huge ask. Only, though, if there is the groundswell of Remain opinion.

                    Conversely, if Labour (rightly in my view) read the political runes and finds that the majority view (or near to it, let’s say 40-45% of the electorate) is hard Brexit, then you’ve got another 10-20% who want a soft Brexit (in varying degrees of softness) then Brexit is the only game in town. Muddying your message with any sort of Remain-ey talk just opens the floodgates to accusations of being weak or muddled. Labour is far better served to just make Brexit a non-topic and concentrate on social reform issues instead.

      2. Terry

        I’m running my final analysis of my choice experiment now (speeded up – I never expected this).

        Labour are indeed just as split as the Tories but Corbyn *does* have a route to victory via a BREXIT route if he chooses to go back to his roots.

        My model perfectly predicts the LEAVE/REMAIN votes but I am currently running it on the crucial “non-voters” – they have the power to deliver LEAVE (and likely hard BREXIT given their preferences for a free trade area only) or REMAIN (since at least 8% of the 28% electorate who never turned up were REMAIN but never voted because of a PM who liked pork rather a lot *ahem*).

    4. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, PK.

      Spot on as always.

      With regard to the (neo-)Liberals, that won’t stop the Grauniad from bigging them up.

      1. Clive

        I am right now attempting to develop a Guardian filter so I can avoid the risk of exposure in the next couple of months and keep what’s left of my sanity intact. Thus far, unfortunately, Polly Toynbee has (not unlike that “London Mum Earns £5,000 A Month Using Just Her Laptop” ad) proved impossible to suppress. Her father must be turning in his grave.

        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, Clive.

          I may have to copy you.

          It’s bad enough having to watch property porn to avoid the mainstream news channels.

          One wonders if Toynbee is scribbling from her Tuscan hideaway.

    5. vidimi

      agreed that corbyn fumbled brexit. telling his MPs not to vote against it in the HoC was just like the previous caretaker leader (whose name i already forgot) instructing them not to vote against austerity for the same reasons.

        1. vidimi

          that’s the one. it was a hopelessly out of touch move, betraying those people who did vote labout in the GE, presumably, in order to avoid austerity. so too did corbyn mishandle brexit.

          1. Colonel Smithers

            Thank you, Vidimi.

            That / her upper class family has opportunists in both Labour and the Tory party.

    6. purplepencils

      The surprise also really drives home the way in which May makes decisions unilaterally and fairly unpredictably. I doubt the Tories are thrilled.

  3. Ed

    Fixed Term Parliament Act requires a super-majority to call an election before the five year mark, so any early election would require Labour approval. Corbyn stated a few months ago that he would agree to an early election.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Germany has a similar rule, but that has not prevented the CDU from getting around it, just like the Tories and Labour.

      1. Ed

        “Germany has a similar rule, but that has not prevented the CDU from getting around it, just like the Tories and Labour.”

        The similarity is that both the Basic Law and the FTPA provide for early elections after a no confidence vote.

        In the case of Germany this arose three times, the first time due to the government really losing the confidence of the Bundestag, the other two times due to manipulation. The President and the Constitutional Court examined both of these instances and allowed them with reservations.

        With the FTPA this has not been tested. It is part of the royal prerogative for the Queen to refuse to call elections of the timetable of her Prime Minister and send for another politician in the event of a no confidence vote. Similar constitutional issues have come up sometimes in other Commonwealth countries but not the UK itself. Buckingham Palace would probably try to use the option that generates the least public controversy.

        The point is that the “workarounds” are not automatic in parliamentary systems. Its easier to just get the Opposition to agree to the early elections. Opposition parties could always vote in favor of the government in any no confidence vote the government is deliberately trying to lose, removing that option.

        1. Paul Greenwood

          German electorate has only rejected a Chancellor at the polls twice since 1949. The Allies drafted the German Verfassung to make the Chancellor (their puppet) immovable and only the President can be impeached. Germany does not have a particularly democratic accountability. The German electoral system is unconstitutional and none knows how big the Bundestag will be in 2018 because of Ueberhaengemandate

  4. templar555510

    It reminds me of John Major’s ‘ put up or shut up ‘ call in the nineties and, as a Leaver, but no Tory Boy , it says to me that Mrs. May really does have some balls ; remember she said ‘ Brexit means Brexit ‘ and if those that think it doesn’t want rid of her, now’s their chance. So we can all take a deep breath and see what happens . Switch off the news media until the election is over because all you’ll hear is claptrap from the commentariat especially the BBC.

    1. Clive

      Given that she died in 2002, I suspect we won’t hear too much from her on this — or any other — subject.

  5. BruceK

    The PM has so many reasons to call a snap election it already looks inevitable in retrospect:
    1. The election expenses issue you mention above.
    2. To win her own mandate, and escape from awkward manifesto promises from 2015. This includes the triple pension lock which I believe she has declined to renew.
    3. Brexit becomes a manifesto commitment, so by convention the House of Lords cannot meddle with it.
    4. Wages are falling again, and tax/welfare changes are just now coming into effect that will hammer poor voters.
    5. Labour and UKIP are in chaos, while the Lib Dems are still electorally tarred by their role in the coalition.
    6. The various Brexit issues you mention in your article have not registered with most of the electorate yet, but no doubt will do by 2020.

    So when for the Tories could an election be better? No doubt Theresa May remembers that by good timing Harold Wilson in 1966 converted a tiny majority into a landslide, and can contrast this with Callaghan in 1978 and especially Brown in 2007.

    She will also , barring the unimaginable, be forming a new government which makes it easy to replace underperforming ministers of which, it must be said, we have a few. So it will be interesting to see after the election if:

    1. She replaces Hammond (the Chancellor). The recent budget fiasco (with self-employed National Insurance rates) suggests she may.
    2. She replaces Boris Johnson and/or Liam Fox, both of whom are utterly useless.
    3. She kisses and makes up with either Osborne (FCO?) or Michael Gove.

    Final thought – it seems to me an about evens’ chance that this is the UK’s last election, at least in the UK’s current form.

  6. begob

    It could become the austerity election. May has made noises about economic fairness, but everybody noticed how Hammond stuck with Osborne’s policies. Seems daft to me, given that Brexit will affect living standards in the medium term.

    1. windsock

      And if Corbyn has any sense, that is exactly what he’ll do. Hammer the austerity that has been and the austerity that is to come and argue for soft Brexit, over and over and over.

    2. Paul Greenwood

      BreXit has to affect living standards to reduce trade deficit. Why do you think UK should have the right to live high on the hog by borrowing foreign capital ?

    3. Paul Greenwood

      Soft BreXit where you pay €18bn gross into EU kitty to import €100bn more in goods than you export

    4. reslez

      Austerity is the “why” of Brexit. Brexit becomes the latest excuse/crowbar to pry apart whatever remains of social welfare in the UK. Brexit allows UK elites to stripmine their population with less outside interference. That’s why such a large chunk of them want it. Of course, the EU itself is another “why” for austerity, but apparently it was too slow and had too many conscience-sop policies to satisfy the more rapacious UK elites. The national government is less insulated than the EU from voters, though. I suppose that’s why Brexit won.

  7. Eustache de Saint Pierre

    There was some talk of a progressive alliance…Labour, Greens & Lib Dems, although I have not heard anything on it for quite sometime.

    As a Green supporter I am disappointed with their stance since the leader election, which resulted in a joint leadership of Caroline Lucas & Jonathon Bartley, who from the clips I have seen remind of some couple on one of those ” Good Morning Britain ” television shows.

    They also appear to now just jump on the latest bandwagon, screaming ” Trump, Trump “, or whatever is the latest thing, without bothering with any sort of deeper analysis. The final straw for me was when the male partner instantly condemned Assad for the recent chemical attack.

    Sometimes I wish I was a bear who no matter the season, could occasionally just head off somewhere & hibernate…..but who knows these days, what horrors I would wake up to.

  8. Anonymous2

    It will be interesting to see May’s manifesto. Will there be sops for Murdoch? No second part of the Leveson inquiry? Allowed to own all of Sky? Call me an old cynic, but I will be surprised if TM called this election without consulting RM first.

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