1) Mrs May needs a big majority to handle Brexit Article 50 negotiations. Not true. She has won every vote in the House of Commons with support from Labour MPs looking over their shoulder at their working class voters after the Brexit vote last June. After the general election the Brexit votes, like those in the 2015 General Election or the 2014 Scottish referendum will fade into memory.
2) A clear majority allow Mrs May to govern strongly. Not true. Tory MPs are very disciplined right now. With an extra 50-100 entering the Commons most from the generation that has grown up with this century’s political-media hostility to all things European Conservative MPs will be much more difficult to handle, especially as there will not be enough ministerial posts to dangle as an inducement to good behaviour.
3) Mrs May needs her own mandate. Not under the British system where it is quite usual for prime ministers to take over mid-term – think Gordon Brown, John Major or James Callaghan. The French Socialists won a handsome 86 seat majority in 2012. It did them no good at all.
4) Labour will be crushed. Not quite. Jeremy Corbyn is certainly not going to enter Downing Street but there is a hunger for more radical politics – look at Bernie Sanders in America, Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France, Podemos in Spain or Syriza in Greece. Labour since 2010 is still under the shadow of the Blair-Brown-Mandelson generation and their children like the brothers Miliband and other ex-Labour ministers. After the electoral defeat on 8th June Labour can rebuild.
5) The Liberal-Democrats will make a come-back. Doubtful. Some elderly LibDems who lost their seats in the wipe-out of 2015 when Nick Clegg’s marriage of ambition with David Cameron cost the party nearly 50 seats are hoping to return on an anti-Brexit ticket. But single issue EU political issues do not decide the composition of the House of Commons as UKIP discovered at every recent general election when Nigel Farage always failed to become an MP.
6) Politics will become more stable. Hardly. There is no sense that the election will encourage the Scots or the nationalist community in Northern Ireland to make their peace with the English nationalism espoused by the hard-line on Brexit that Mrs May has taken so far. In the 65th year of her reign Queen Elizabeth will see an ever more disunited Kingdom after June 8th.
7) Labour will be replaced by a more centrist party. Dream on. This early election is in fact extremely helpful for Labour who would have limped on miserably until 2020. Corbyn may stay on a period but both the election and 1-2 years after allow new Labour talent to emerge to replace Corbyn and his elderly 1968 generation of leftists and the Blair era MPs who have had their moment but are now past their listen-to date. Watch out for Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, and by far the most interesting new politician around. By 2022, he can have proved himself as a national leader if he gets good advice and a good team.
8) Britain with a strong Tory majority will be able to dictate terms to the EU. Ask Berlin, Paris. With the arrival in the Elysée of the most pro-EU government leader in two decades Britain will be more than ever isolated. So far, Brexit had not happened – other than in the sense of last June’s referendum vote. UK firms and citizens can still trade, travel, retire and make money in Europe as a full members of the EU. When that alters, it does not matter if Mrs May has a majority of 500, she is unlikely to persuade Berlin, Paris, Madid or Warsaw to tear up the EU rule book so that Britain can keep all the advantages of EU membership but accept none of the obligation, duties or price to be paid.
9) There will be a new Anglo-Sphere axis between Trump and May which does not need Europe. The special relationship myth. President Trump may indeed have grabbed Mrs May’s hand to stop stumbling when she rushed to Washington to be the first leader after his inauguration but Trump now says he wants a free trade deal with the EU not with the UK. The influential Tory mass circulation Daily Mail dismisses the UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, as a Trump poodle. Trump’s invocation of Buy America trade protectionism runs counter to the Brexit promise that a new vista of free trade deal would open once the UK left Europe. Trump reveres the memory of his Scottish mother and the anger of the Scots at having their right to be European confiscated by Mrs May’s English nationalism may have percolated into the Trump worldview.
10) With her majority Mrs May has a solid five years of political dominance in front of her. In her dreams. Since the days of Margaret Thatcher, the Tories have been the tax-cutting party. So weak are public finances and so serious is the decaying state of the UK’s National Health Service, its schools, old-age care, prisons and the military it is difficult to see how tax hikes can be avoided. Add in FDI worries over whether the UK will lose Single Market and EU Customs Union access and the economic horizon is very clouded. A Tory party and Tory voters who are faced with increased taxes and a decline in national wealth will fall out of love with Mrs May very fast no matter the majority she wins in six weeks’ time.
Denis MacShane is the UK’s former Minister of Europe, a Labour MP for 18 years, and author of Brexit: How Britain Will Leave Europe published in January 2015. He is currently a Senior Advisor at Avisa Partners in Brussels.
Article published in The New European on 29 April 2017.