An election to assert Mrs May’s own Tory identity, is what this is all about.
Perhaps, it was back in March when Philip Hammond was forced to make an embarrassing U-turn over plans to raise national insurance for the self-employed, that Theresa May realised that she needed to call an election.
Announcing his U-turn, the embattled Chancellor shocked MPs when he revealed that he had first heard that his plans broke promises made in the 2015 Tory Manifesto from the BBC’s Political Editor, Laura Kuennsberg.
This negligence towards manifesto promises doesn’t just prove the disdain some politicians have towards keeping them; but crucially, the forced U-turn shows just how cornered Theresa May and her government are when it comes to distancing themselves from their predecessors.
The announcement of George Osborne retiring as an MP concluded the end of the recent modernisation project of the Conservative Party. It was a project led by David Cameron and George Osborne vehemently. And it is now a project that had died with the nadir of the duo.
Even from her first speech in Downing Street, Theresa May deliberately made sure that she should be seen as different to her predecessor. Her advocacy for grammar schools and lack of support for Osborne’s persistent austerity plans to continue, are proof that.
Theresa May is leading a different government and crucially a different kind of party.
What better way to show how different you are? How else do you get the public to forget the last 6 years? With an Election.
When the PM shocked the country by declaring her intention to seek an election, she blamed the ‘divisions within Westminster’ for disrupting her Brexit plans. She further explained how an election would stop those trying to ‘stop Brexit’.
But I suggest the Prime Minister wants to go further than that. She needs this election to finally erase the Cameron years and click the restart button on the Tory Party.
Despite this, voters will inevitably look back, at least, at the last two years of a conservative majority government, when deciding how to vote. In terms of manifesto promises, May and Cameron have both had an equally mediocre record.
In 2015 the Conservative Party made a number of pledges that they have now broken:
The Pledge: ‘We will control spending, eliminate the deficit’.
The Reality: On becoming chancellor, Philip Hammond swiftly ditched the promise. He lessens the intensity of cuts and austerity. The latest projection is that the surplus might not be achieved until 2025-26
The Pledge: ‘We say yes to the single market’.
The Reality: Perhaps not solely at the hands of the Tories themselves, this promise has been broken by the pledges of Vote Leave and the harsh reality from European leaders that the free movement of people and the single market are an intrinsic partnership.
The Pledge: ‘We keep our ambition delivering annual net migration in the tens of thousands’.
The Reality: It is understood May wants this pledge in the 2017 manifesto. The OBR projects a figure of around 200,000 by the end of the decade. Though, the UK’s exit from the European Union may change this.
On top of these issues, Theresa May has most obviously changed her mind over plans to hold an early election. Will this year’s manifesto be any different? Yes, at least for the Conservatives.
In the next few weeks all parties will begin to release their manifestos. In previous years manifesto pledges have been listened to wearily by a public all too aware of broken promises, heightened after Nick Clegg’s infamously broken pledge not to raise tuition fees.
This time though, Theresa May is in such a strong position in the polls that she doesn’t have to discard unrealistic and more importantly financially unsound promises just to swing the last few voters — that will almost certainly come back to bite. That’s why this year’s Conservative Manifesto will be worth a read. It will be a genuine plan for the next five years or
so under PM May. It will also shed light on her important domestic policy, currently overshadowed by Brexit.
A realistic manifesto from the conservatives, will also inform us of the true nature of Theresa May’s overhaul of the Conservative Party. Where will Brexit take her premiership?
To voters this election’s most important issue is Brexit. After that the NHS. This weekend’s polling showed the NHS almost neutralised as a campaign issue, with May trusted more to manage the public service than Jeremy Corbyn by 3 per cent.
The new defining line of British politics is Brexit — proving that the referendum vote answered one of politics’ biggest questions but also left many more unanswered and to be contested.
The Prime Minister’s tactic is clear. Appeal to those Labour, Tory and Ukip voters that voted Leave last June.
‘Theresa May’s decision to make the Conservatives the party of Brexit will likely bring her enormous short-term profit, and a big majority. She can corral many, perhaps most, of the floating ex-UKIP voters into her camp; she can look strong, decisive and representative of the national interest’, Glen O’Hara, Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Oxford Brookes University told Shout Out UK.
He then went on to offer a startling warning for the Conservative Party.
‘There are long-term dangers here for the Conservatives, though: they might be exposing their left flank to the Lib Dems, who are likely to take back at least some of the seats the Conservatives gained from them last time, letting their main rivals in the South West back into the political game. Longer term, more liberal and internationalist voters in the political centre might become increasingly alienated by a nationalist, and increasingly strident, Conservative Party’.
This prediction of a Lib Dem fightback may only come to fruition after Brexit. The Lib Dems are likely to take seats in the South West but not to make meaningful victories elsewhere in the UK — there is still a long way to go for the blemished party that was in government only five years ago.
‘This election may look like a stroll for the Tories: but heavier weather may eventually lie ahead’, warns Glen O’Hara.
Frequently, politicians live in the here and now, constantly worried about poll ratings and newspaper headlines. With that in mind Theresa May is moving the Conservatives in the best direction to win the current political battle, but will this restrict them in the future?
In moving the Conservatives further to the right, May is leaving a centre ground for the liberals and Labour to fill.
However, Labour under Corbyn is currently heading for a heavy defeat. Instead of confronting the most profound issues of Brexit, they are sat on the fence trying to achieve the impossible — appeal to both Remain and Leave voters.
‘Labour, on the other hand, is being ripped apart by the Liberal Democrats eating up votes from those who are still committed to Remain’s cause from the referendum, and more conservative voters who might plump for Mrs May or UKIP’, suggests O’Hara.
Theresa May is transforming her party, and in doing so breaking many of the pledges made in the 2015 manifesto that she once stood behind.
But isn’t that what Theresa May wants — a clean break from the last six years of Tory modernisation?
When David Cameron resigned as prime minister, he was ousted because of the desperate need for change that 52 per cent of the public cried for.
Theresa May has come along and seized this opportunity. She is not just changing the course of the country, but also of her party.