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Early General Election in the UK: Will Theresa May Succeed?

Theresa May has called an early general election to achieve an overwhelming Tory majority in the House of Commons and thus secure firm backing at the Brexit talks. Will she succeed?

It seemed the vote would be devoid of intrigue. But while a mere two weeks ago the Tories were 15 to 20 points ahead of the Labor party in the polls, today the gap has narrowed down to 7-10 points. The Manchester attack failed to influence the political lineup in any perceivable way. Nor did it boost Tory ratings. Their popularity actually declined after they proposed cutting budget spending for social services to the elderly and showed a willingness to consider legalizing fox hunting (an aristocratic pastime). In the run-up to the elections (just a few days), the Tories hope to regain the edge by refocusing the campaign on Brexit and security, their strong points.

Problems of security, fight against terrorism and extremism came to the fore after the terrorist attack on the night of 2 to 3 June. Prime Minister Teresa May said that "enough is enough", and if she wins, she is certainly be able to carry out the measures she proposed before the elections were announced. Labor leader Jeremy Corbin accused the government of cutting funds for the police and unwillingness to publish a report on the financing of extremist groups abroad.

Polls show that many provisions of the Labor Party Manifesto are popular with the voters:

-         71% support a ban on zero-hour contracts (where employers do not guarantee daily employment and pay for actual work done);

-         74% do not want the retirement age to exceed 66 years;

-         65% agree with proposed tax increases for the rich (those earning over 80,000 pounds per year).

At the same time, Labor refuses to impose limits on annual immigration, which provokes discontent both among the electorate as a whole (49-32) and their own supporters (28%). The Tories are in the lead in this regard.

It is both a thankless and dubious business to predict the outcome of the vote on June 8 based on the polls. The analysts themselves are at a loss, pointing to public opinion volatility revealed by new polling methods developed in the wake of the 2015 polling fiasco [1]. In fact, polls are based on a “proportional” system while actual voting is an FPTP affair. The system is certainly disproportionate and unjust, as is evidenced by the fact that the UK Independence Party gained 12.6% of the vote in 2015, but landed just one seat in Parliament. The spread of data among sociological agencies has never been so great: at the beginning of June, the Conservative party's advantage over the Labor Party is estimated from1 to 10 points.

As they cast their ballots, voters keep in mind yet another important circumstance: the party that wins will appoint the prime minister. In this respect, Theresa May is far ahead of Jeremy Corbyn. Voters prefer May as a politician and think she has better potential for representing British interests in the world, conducting Brexit talks, facing terrorism, reducing immigration and raising education standards. Corbyn is only given priority in some areas, such as healthcare and protection of working families and elderly people. Moreover, most voters believe that the Labor leader is farther to the left from the center than Trump is to the right. Because of this even Labor supporters have less sympathy for their leader than Tory voters for Theresa May. Turnout is another factor with potential to influence the elections. The youth (pro-Corbyn) turnout is traditionally not as high as that among members of older age groups. However, Corbyn’s passionate personality does appeal to the young.

Still, early in the campaign the Tories were set for a convincing mandate, now, a week before the vote, they can only hope for a marginal victory.

Yelena Ananieva, PhD in Philosophy, Head of the Center for British Studies at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences



[1] During the 2015 election campaign, polls pointed to a hung parliament, but Tories proved the polls wrong by winning by a comfortable margin. Pollsters puzzle over Labour surge – and volatile electorate could keep them guessing | Politics. URL: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/may/27/tory-manifesto-disaster-labour-surge-polls-close-general-election




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