Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The art of comedy? Timing

Well, unexpectedly the Prime Minister called a “snap” General Election yesterday. Unexpectedly because as recently as September 2016 she was quite clear in her refusal to do so “I am not going to be calling a snap election…we need a period of stability to be able to deal with the issues the country is facing”. So, why the sudden turnaround in that view? Has the Prime Minister decided we need less stability? Or that Brexit is actually much easier than she expected it to be? Or could there be another reason for it?

It all feels a bit strange, and for those people who are not engaged in politics, this must seem the worst possible outcome. After all we had the particularly nasty and bad tempered Scottish Independence referendum in 2014. Then a general election in 2015. Following on from that David Cameron decided he would shut up UKIP and the brexiteer side of his party by destroying them with ANOTHER referendum in 2016 (and that went so well for him) on EU membership. That was quickly followed up with wall to wall coverage of the US presidential elections (no genuinely, he actually won under their system).

Since then the Prime Minister has insisted that any referendum on Scottish Independence would be a distraction and the government must be entirely focussed on Brexit. In fact just 5 weeks ago, she said “Now is not the time. Just at this point all our energies should be focused on our negotiations with the European Union”.

So why have we had this sudden change of heart from the Prime Minister? There are a number of reasons that this may have taken place. Apparently it is to get a stronger hand for Brexit, and to do the right thing for the country. There are a number of other alternative theories too, so it seems only fair that we explore them all. And just for fun, let’s add a plausibility score out of ten – on whether it has directly impacted on the announcement at this time.  

Official explanation from the PM

Part1: The other parties and the Lords are trying to stop Brexit, and I need a larger majority to force it through.

An interesting statement really, and one that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny on any level. Firstly, the other political parties AND the Lords have had opportunities to delay and frustrate the process. These votes have been held. The opportunity to stop Brexit has been passed already. The votes are completed, and Brexit will happen. As Yvette Cooper pointed out today - 3/4 of MPs and 2/3 of Lords voted FOR Brexit when the vote was held. There is no opportunity of stopping Brexit now, unless there was a massive change in direction and views of the country. That would really require the PM herself to come back and say “we can’t achieve what we promised if we leave”. If that were really her fear she would have called a general election during the NINE MONTHS she has had before triggering Article 50.

Plausibility rating: I wouldn’t buy a used car from her.

Part 2: Negotiations will continue until just before the next General Election, and then you will be able to see what deal we have and start to feel it impacting you. The other countries will use that to drive a hard bargain.

There is probably more truth in this part of her statement. But there are some massive implicit promises in there that you are expected to miss out on. Firstly, it is an acceptance that we will not get everything we want from any negotiations. In fact, it is the first time publicly that any Conservative minister has admitted that the negotiations will be a 2-way street, and that there will be give and take depending on the political pressures the politicians feel at home. Secondly, there is an admission that ordinary people will feel the negative impacts of Brexit. Even those who voted for it and supported it will by then realise we have ended up with a potentially worse deal than we had.

Theresa May is terrified the government will be blamed for that. Perhaps, people may think, if they had spent more time negotiating the best deal and less time threatening war with Spain and coming up with catchy little phrases we wouldn’t be heading into a recession. I can understand Theresa May wanting to avoid that. After all, she was a Remain supporter, who never wanted to leave the EU. She can see closer and in much more detail how hard it will be. I wouldn’t want to be measured on the basis of how successful or painful it was in that situation.

Plausibility rating: More than a ring of truth about it.

It’s a snap annihilation of the Labour Party

Obviously, the staunch conservative voters and those who have wanted the left wing of the Labour party to fail since the election of Jeremy Corbyn are desperate to believe this is the reason for calling it now. Certainly, if you believe the polls (you know, the ones that showed us there would be no overall majority in the last election, that we would remain in the EU, and that Trump would lose) then this makes good political sense.

However, why now exactly? We have only 2 years to negotiate the exit from the EU, and this will take 7 weeks out of that timetable. Labour have been wallowing in the polls for about 18 months. Why not as soon as David Cameron resigned? Labour have said all along they will support it. So did this really make Theresa May directly contradict herself and break a promise she made publicly? Also, was the best time to launch it after Labour have had 2 weeks of announcing a number of incredibly popular policies – one a day – that have strong public support? Finally, if this IS the case, it is a clear admission that calling this election has nothing to do with the good of the country – just the good of the Tory party.

Plausibility rating: A consideration, and an expectation, but not the main reason.

Alleged Tory electoral fraud from 2015

There is still, hanging over the Tories, a police investigation into electoral fraud during the 2015 General Election. This arose because the Tories spent a lot of money in specific target seats that they claimed as central spending, when actually it directly related to the results in those seats, allegedly. A file of possible charges has been sent to the Crown Prosecution Service, and an announcement was expected THIS WEEK. Obviously, that announcement is now up for grabs.

Certainly, we can glean some clues to this – the fact that the CPS have confirmed they are still looking to continue this work suggests there is a case to at least be considered. If there is a fresh election, it means that this can be glossed over as having been solved at the Ballot Box instead of in the courts. Secondly, when the Prime Minister was asked, on the floor of the House of Commons whether she would allow anyone facing criminal or legal proceedings over this to stand, she said that she would support all Tory candidates to stand it begins to show the contempt that she feels towards free and fair elections. Obviously, this is not something that the PM would want to call an election for. But it may just be that this has been the final straw. And it is hard to argue against, given the rushed and surprise nature of it, the obvious U-turning and the fact she is now eating her own words on stability.

Plausability rating: Ticks the box for the timing aspect.

So, there we have it then. A lot of conjecture, and a lot of assumptions, and a lot of admittance on the part of the Government about how bad things are. The most likely scenario is that this is a government who are afraid of admitting the mess they are making of Brexit forced into this decision by the timing of CPS decisions. They are putting the needs of their party above your needs as citizens of this country. I would suggest you remember that, and don’t let them get away with it when you are in the polling station. 

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