I am a very politically-minded person. The bookshelf above my bed almost buckles under the weight of tomes on a whole host of political issues and philosophies (and gin). I followed the 2015 general election intently, the Brexit referendum to the point of insanity. I spent an hour a day reading up on the American elections for two months. Elections fascinate me.
So when I say I am apathetic regarding the general election called by Theresa May, take that as a sign of the times. In his excellent 2013 book, ‘Against Elections: The Case For Democracy’, David Van Reybrouck reflected on the increased number of elections across Europe, claiming that ‘Democratic Fatigue Syndrome’ is starting to take hold. Low voter turnout undermines the outcomes of elections. Just look at how Trump winning a little over a quarter of eligible voters has dogged his presidency. It hard to find legitimacy when turnout is low.
Turnout will be low on June 8th. The Tories will sweep a majority, currently predicted to be roughly 180 seats higher than Labour but, mark my words, it will be at least 200 after barraging Corbyn and Co on the campaign trail and accounting for shy Tories. For those in Scotland this will be the third election in three years and the fifth election in four years if one includes referenda. This will be the third ballot for the Northern Irish in a year. These regions are equally uncompetitive. The electoral map of the UK is a given at this point, with only a few seats, such as Cambridge and Sunderland, being of any true significance. There is almost no reason to turn up in most seats.
But the question is, has May called the election too early? I would argue she is not holding it too early.
From her point of view, she is riding an emphatic high in the polls. A 2020 election does May no favours. She has picked up the most rabid of Brexiters amongst the electorate. Added to the swing voters and Tory base, they are why she will attain such a commanding majority. Yet, if she waits until 2020, she will have lost them. Why?
Because we either will have disastrously crashed out of Brexit negotiations without an extension, or we will still be in the EU negotiating our way out. Neither is acceptable to this small but vocal voter group. We must leave in 2019 and it must be a success.
The political reality of this is that there is no prospect of this happening; it cannot happen given the scope of the task of leaving. But 2022 is a realistic prospect for having left with a decent exit deal. By calling a 2017 election, she locks in the voters she relies on for a majority before they can drift away from her.
Many expected her to allow Corbyn to do more damage to Labour first. But, from recent polling, it seems Labour have hit the bottom. She has profited all she can from Corbyn’s destruction of Labour. From Labour’s point of view it is the easiest way to be rid of a disastrous leader in the shortest amount of time.
The greatest tragedy for democracy here, however, is that it shows just how worthless the Fixed-term Parliaments Act was. One of the few positive constitutional changes implemented by the coalition is little more than a £10 000 piece of vellum with ink on. That is the only important conclusion to take from the election: a Parliamentary majority can do whatever it wants.
On 8th June, the Conservatives may have the biggest majority in decades.