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Opinion Editorial
April 19, 2017

Theresa May’s Risky General Election Plan

Henry Jackson Society

By Tim Stafford

This article originally appeared on The National Interest

It is not uncommon for British prime ministers who take over in the middle of a parliamentary term to seek the personal mandate that comes with winning an election in their own right. By and large, the British public expect them to do so. When Gordon Brown flirted with calling an early poll after succeeding Tony Blair, only to balk at the very last moment, his political standing plummeted and never recovered. Accordingly, the prospect of an early general election has hovered over Westminster ever since Theresa May entered 10 Downing Street last summer. However, until this week, May had stuck to her pledge not to seek a fresh mandate, arguing that an election would inject unnecessary instability at a time when the UK is preparing for the ferociously complicated process of negotiating its exit from the European Union.

May’s announcement that she would “reluctantly” seek a general election on June 8 rests upon her desire to secure the political capital needed to see that negotiation process through to a conclusion. All three of the main opposition parties—Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Nationalists—remain critical of the government’s approach. In addition, the slender Conservative majority of seventeen affords the Tories’ most ardent “Brexiteers” a latent veto over anything that smacks of compromise. May’s hope is that victory will silence her government’s critics and enable her to isolate the more extreme elements in her party.

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