We knew Brexit was a ship without rudders, and much like the EU referendum outcome, Theresa May’s call for an early General Election for 8th June was yet another surprise. All of course in the space of less than a year, which began with the triumph of the decades-long Tory Eurosceptic project and May’s Government being forced by the High Court to trigger Brexit by an Act of Parliament. Whilst all of this was uncharted – the tumult was to be expected somewhat, to the rest of us it was slowly becoming clearer. Thus, we were getting ready for at least two years of political and legal intrigue, and facing up to the opportunities and challenges of Brexit’s lacerating impacts. But it turns out, there was a simmering unresolved dilemma for May.
When Nicola Sturgeon claimed that ‘May had no democratic mandate’ she perhaps hit May harder than she probably realised at the time. And so, May, as she made it clear, ‘only recently and reluctantly’ came to this conclusion; a big U-turn to her repeated insistence earlier that the next General Election would be in 2020. Mandates are a sign of strength in politics, and Brexit being the biggest change in the UK for a generation with potentially huge implications on most aspects of British life (that are yet to be worked), May clearly feels it’s necessary: both for her own sanity and also to push through the Brexit process as it heats up down the road. Of course, only time will tell if this will be a miscalculation on her part or not. But there are a number of additional headwinds, which May seems to be hedging against.
Primarily, a snap election buys more time for a better-negotiated Brexit settlement with the EU. Crucially, it decouples the timing of the end of the Brexit negotiations, set for 2019, and the run-up to the next General Election in 2020. A snap General Election now puts the next General Election well after Brexit in 2022. It also paves the way for May to seek a longer period for a well thought-out and less painful divorce from the EU.
Secondly, and perhaps this is somewhat fortuitous timing, or as some will point out Tory opportunism with the main opposition party in dire condition. Labour, unable to forge solidarity under Corbyn (a life-long anti-establishment figure) in both the Parliamentary Party as well as in the grass roots, remains highly fractionalised. The Lib Dems remain decimated from the last election and their promise to de-Brexit will be as damaging to Labour as Conservative votes, but with little net effect in relative voter share between Tory and Labour. The SNP finds itself in a somewhat new position of having everything to lose having completely soaked-up Labour’s votes. By reaction, this actually gives the Scottish Conservatives a greater impetus to take on SNP candidates particularly in more marginal seats. Altogether, May will be well-aware that if the Conservative’s did lose some of their current parliamentary majority of 17 seats, the possibility of a tri-party coalition between Labour, Lib Dem and SNP is unlikely as things stand today. Lastly, for the electorate it will be a challenge to reconcile their own personal position on EU (Brexiter/Remainer) if it goes against the position of their local MP.
So, what can we expect of the coming election campaign? Unfortunately, the political climate in the UK has not matured much since the EU Referendum. There’s been no real movement on combating false news for instance. And certainly, the false claims of Brexit will be fresh in the minds of many, adding to ongoing mistrust of politicians and the media. We can also expect the usual clamour that ‘voting is haram’ and ‘democracy is haram.’ Thankfully, they will be countered by a growing number of disparate Muslim advocacy groups and generally ordinary Muslims who are now more inclined to reject these views. However, amongst advocacy groups there is a growing call for a ‘Muslim block vote,’ which in the end analysis seems to always reduce to an emotion-based endorsement for Labour. It is here that we ought to have a sense of political realism to remove needless frustration, negativity and cynicism in matters of politics. At the very least, it will help Muslims to think more positively and to reconnect with that gracious, less reactionary, balanced and reconciliatory nature exemplified in Prophetic demeanour. As believers, we are commanded to desire good (hasanah) for worldly life, which in the instance of a snap General Election entails desiring a good election outcome, competent leaders and efficacious policies.