THIS MORNING, UK Prime Minister Theresa May made the shock announcement that a snap general election will be held on 8 June.
With the Brexit negotiations set to get underway in earnest after May triggered Article 50, the Conservative party leader is clearly seeking a mandate from the people for the kind of “hard Brexit” she has previously indicated.
Speaking to Taoiseach Enda Kenny on the phone today, May reiterated commitments regarding Ireland and Brexit, and said that these remained unchanged.
Kenny emphasised that the upcoming election should also not mean that a return to direct Westminster rule in Northern Ireland should be contemplated, according to a spokesperson for the Irish government.
The UK has traditionally seen one party holding the power in government, with the Conservatives winning a clear majority in the last election.
But, recent history shows us that coalition rule isn’t entirely out of the question in Britain, with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats working together in the previous government.
Already, May’s rhetoric has shown that this general election will hinge on Brexit and the main parties’ approach to it.
The smaller parties, such as Plaid Cymru in Wales and the DUP and Sinn Féin in the North, will likely win a few seats, but nowhere near enough to play a huge role in the upcoming election.
So, who are the main players? And who is the most likely to win?
The Labour party had a disastrous general election in 2015. They failed to convince voters that they would be better in government after five years of Con/Lib Dem rule and lost 26 seats in Westminster.
When leader Ed Miliband stood aside, veteran left-wing backbencher Jeremy Corbyn swept to a surprise victory to become the new leader.
The party has been dogged with infighting ever since, with other leading Labour MPs refusing to back Corbyn.
That came to a head following the Brexit vote last year. Many senior Labour MPs felt that Corbyn only put a half-hearted effort into campaigning for a “remain” vote, given his long-standing eurosceptic views.
He managed to survive the attempted coup, with a large support among the grassroots of the party.
This will be his first general election as leader of the party, but recent poll figures do not paint a pretty picture for Labour.
According to the latest poll from YouGov, conducted last week, Labour was a full 21 points behind the Conservatives, with only 23% of people saying that they’d vote Labour if there was a general election tomorrow.
Islington MP Corbyn clearly has a lot to do to convince the British electorate that he can lead the country going forward. He has indicated that the party would press ahead with Brexit, but only his government could secure the best deal for Britain.
In his initial statement, he also declared a wider pledge on a number of issues that the Labour party would address.
Even though the pollsters did get it wrong predicting the results of the 2015 UK general election, and last year’s Brexit vote, it is clear that Labour has a mountain to climb to reverse the 100+ seat difference that the Conservatives won in the last election.
If the 2015 general election was bad for Labour, it was an utter catastrophe for the Liberal Democrats.
The party won 57 seats in 2010. In 2015, it only won eight.
The electorate punished the Lib Dems, and its leader Nick Clegg, for its coalition with the Conservatives and the breaking of a number of campaign pledges, including a commitment not to raise the price of going to university.
This time around, the party and its new leader Tim Farron are hopeful for a return to the front bench of British politics.
They’ve been quick off the mark today, positioning itself as the party of the “soft Brexit” which would see Britain remain in the single market and offer a “change of direction” for the country.
It has campaigned on an anti-Brexit ticket in recent by-elections, and its membership has apparently swelled since Theresa May’s announcement this morning.
In a statement, Farron said that, with the Labour party flailing, only voting Lib Dem could prevent a Conservative majority.
In that YouGov poll, the Liberal Democrats polled at 12%. Since the UK doesn’t operate its elections with proportional representation, like we do here, that may not necessarily translate to the party winning 12% of the seats on offer.
Again, they’ll have a mountain to climb given their current low number of seats but running with their anti-Brexit stance may win over a portion of the electorate that voted to remain in the EU last year.
Scottish Nationalist Party
If Theresa May has signalled that this election will focus solely on the issue of Brexit, then the SNP’s leader Nicola Sturgeon will relish the battle.
The party won almost every seat in Scotland – winning 56 in all – at the last election, and may increase that a bit further in the upcoming election.
The party failed in its bid for Scotland to cede from the United Kingdom in the 2014 independence referendum, but Scotland’s vote to remain in the EU has seen the issue flare up again.
Sturgeon recently announced plans to hold another referendum on whether Scotland should leave the UK, and any more seats won in Westminster by the SNP would legitimise and embolden that movement.
The SNP were used as a tool to beat Labour with in the run-up to the last election, with the Conservatives claiming that the Scots would dictate policy at the cabinet table.
Times have changed, however, and the SNP has the potential to be the kingmaker in the upcoming election if it maintains its seat base and the Conservatives fail to win a clear majority.
The SNP will almost certainly maintain its current level of seats, with the potential to win more from the few isolated Conservative and Labour constituencies in Scotland.
Labour politicians ruled out a coalition in the past and, while unlikely now, that could become a very interesting topic of debate if the Conservatives do not win a majority.
The Conservatives won a clear, if narrow, majority at the last election. It won 330 of the 650 available seats.
That, however, was when David Cameron led the party. Since then, he has been replaced by Theresa May and the country has voted to leave the EU.
Although officially an advocate of remain, May easily beat off her rivals to become prime minister and has since set out to placate the members of the party who’d advocated for a hard Brexit.
However, May’s repeated insistence that she wouldn’t call an election, and the lack of clarity over what Brexit deal the UK will secure are just two of the main points of criticism she will have to face in the upcoming campaign.
She has repeatedly insisted that a Conservative majority would be the best thing for Britain, and securing this will give her a clear mandate to conduct the Brexit negotiations as her government sees fit.
Choosing this time to call an election, also, signals a confidence from May and her party that they believe they can win a majority in the House of Commons.
The pollsters put them way ahead on 44%, and the bookies have them at 1/7 to win a majority, so it appears that this election is “the Conservatives to lose”.
However, with two party heads going into their first general election as leader, it’s not completely cut and dry. Yet.
So what happens now?
The first, and only, hurdle to holding a general election will be overcome in parliament tomorrow.
For an election to be held before the five-year term has elapsed, two-thirds of parliament must vote to hold a fresh ballot.
With both the Conservatives and Labour indicating that they want to go to the polls, this vote should easily pass.