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May’s snap poll call smacks of opportunism

Theresa May’s call for a snap election is a move to amass power, just like Erdogan’s in Turkey. She is tacitly admitting she and her cabinet cannot deal with the intricacies of leaving the European Union in the face of nuisances like democratic protest, opposition and diplomacy.

analysis Updated: Apr 19, 2017 13:08 IST
Saptarshi Ray
Saptarshi Ray
Theresa May,UK Election,Brexit
Britain's Prime Minister, Theresa May, delivers a speech to launch the Conservative Party's local elections campaign, in Calverton, Britain April 6, 2017. (REUTERS)

Brexit is the cloud that keeps on raining on British politics. In calling a snap general election, Theresa May is taking not just a gamble driven by opinion polls - which have got every major ballot of the past three years wrong - but tacitly admitting she and her cabinet cannot deal with the intricacies of leaving the European Union in the face of nuisances like democratic protest, opposition and diplomacy.

Why has she taken this step? Well, the main threat - and I use that term loosely - of the left wing Labour Party, can not only be neutralised, but smashed, if the 21-point lead the Conservative Party currently has plays out across the country. She is effectively saying that she wants more bodies to man the pump, to “roll deep” like a South London street gang; that her 17-seat parliamentary majority is simply not enough to deal with such a big issue. Who expects leaders to be able to handle things they campaigned for, after all?

This is an act of cowardice and opportunism on a grand scale. For someone who took the big chair, based on a deep seated love of the Brexit ethos, this move illustrates what little progress she has made and how ill-equipped she is to handle it. This is the person who banged the drum for the Fixed Term Parliament Act (FTPA) under David Cameron, someone who might have had a thing or two to tell her about calculated risks.

Her statement on the steps of Number 10 Downing Street was the very place last year where, as the new PM, she said there would be no early election, and that the FTPA was sacrosanct in its diktats of elections every five years. Somehow she sees the reversal of an important policy as an issue for her previous avatar, a lowly promise held by a player in a different game with a different set of rules. Then Brexit happened, and caused the sort of pandemonium that a Brexit-supporting prime minister should simply not have to deal with.

Be under no illusions, her election call, like Erdogan’s in Turkey, is about amassing power. And it is as much a warning klaxon to the (many) dissenters in her own party as it is to the opposition parties such as Labour - which itself is in a civil war over Brexit; because its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, favours it (with caveats) while most of his fellow MPs do not. Add to the mix the Scottish National Party, which led the Caledonians in voting overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats, parties in Northern Ireland who were also largely in the Remain camp, and a divided Welsh set of parties, and you have the perfect recipe to further disunite the Kingdom.

Two-thirds of the House of Commons need to vote yes in order to endorse the snap election, and it is hard to see how May’s adversaries can shy away from an open battle. But she is claiming that Brexit cannot be reversed and the only alternative to her is a ramshackle coalition - but what if she loses and the next PM calls another referendum; they’re apparently very popular at the moment. With opponents talking of an anti-Brexit bloc, only the people of the UK can answer - and I’d be a fool to try and predict which way they’ll swing. Chaos as usual.

Saptarshi Ray is a British journalist who worked at the Guardian in London and was UK Correspondent for Outlook.

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Apr 19, 2017 13:08 IST