There used to be just three unavoidables in life: death, taxes and laundry. Now it seems we must add a fourth item to the list: voting.
Theresa May’s decision to call a general election just two years after the last one, a mere twelve months after the EU referendum, and three years after the Scottish independence poll, signals yet more national upheaval and also many of the same people shouting at each other on the news.
Mrs May is aware that many of us outside Westminster have indeed had our fill of politics and politicians. Despite that she has made a clever calculation that could (bar an electoral earthquake) make her at sixty years of age the most powerful PM since Margaret Thatcher’s Eighties heyday. So why call a general election now. Well, there's three very good reasons why...
Timing in politics, as in so many other aspects of life, is all. Within her adult lifetime two unelected male Prime Ministers, Jim Callaghan and Gordon Brown “bottled” chances to win elections at a moment of their own choosing and lived to regret it.
She is aware that the recent positive news on the economy is unlikely to last. Even many of the most fervent Brexiteers concede rising inflation, stagnant earnings plus the uncertainties of leaving the world’s largest trading bloc are likely to hit standards of living sooner rather than later. Much better to cash in on her popularity and bank a big majority before more people wake up to the reality that their holidays and iPhones are costing more and look around for someone to blame.
Winning an election will allow her to throw off the Cameronian inheritance of 2015 and firmly stamp her own authority on the difficult journey that lies ahead. She has also calculated that the twin challenges of wrapping up the Brexit negotiations in 2019 in the approach to a General election in 2020 could put her in a dangerously weakened bargaining position around the Brussels conference table.
Credibility is the keystone of a successful political career. Mrs May has promised a great deal – particularly the delivery of a successful Brexit. Her slightly schoolmarmish manner – combined with a carefully selected power wardrobe and coiffure – are somehow reassuring in these troubled times. She went back on her word when she called the election, but her reputation for competence and calm have prevailed – so far. Once the real negotiations begin, however, then she will be hard pushed to please everybody and could end up losing ground – and face – to our former EU partners.
3. Sheer good luck
Whatever the troubles ahead, few modern politicians have enjoyed so much good fortune in the early days of a premiership. Mrs May talks about the need to silence opposition to her approach to Brexit, but in truth there is little. Jeremy Corbyn’s dismal ratings mean that the Labour party is now a political ghost; a once great political force fighting to be relevant outside its core of devoted but increasingly isolated supporters. Its messages are confused; its impact minimal.
The Liberal Democrats – the closest thing to a clearly anti-Brexit party – are fast winning support but only from a tiny base. They may well dramatically increase the number of their MPs but – barring some astonishing realignment of centrist politicians within the next six short weeks – hardly represent a threat to the formidable Mrs May. She has her kohl-lined eyes on a result she can hail as a clear personal mandate. Now may be her best chance she has of achieving it.10 things you need to know about Theresa May