With Conservative MPs quitting and the High Court ruling against the government, some may think that Theresa May should call an early General Election. This would be an unwise move, despite favourable poll ratings and strong conditions for the Conservatives.
Governments are loathed to call General Elections they might lose. With the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, this has the effect of producing a more volatile political environment. The path to exiting the European Union is far from clear, and an early general election is not wise due to the three-fold divisions within the country over whether we should have a “soft Brexit” or “hard Brexit”
The economy is also in a turbulent position. It’s quite possible that there could be a strong reaction to Brexit in Conservative seats that voted heavily for Remain (seats in urban conurbations for example, where the electorate are decidedly more liberal than the Brexit-supporting Tories of the shires). There was a similar metropolitan backlash against the Labour Party over the Iraq War in 2005, and it is conceivable that a snap election could enable the Liberal Democrats to reclaim their Southwest London wedge lost in 2015.
An early election would force Theresa May to declare her hand (effectively giving a “running commentary” on negotiations and exit strategies). This would split the cabinet and party into supporters of “soft Brexit” (remaining in the Single Market) and hard Brexit (leaving the EU and the Single Market entirely). Anti-Brexit parties could gain political capital by taking advantage of this obvious divide. If the government were to lose its majority in the House of Commons due to a rebellion from Remain voters, then the country could be in a far worse position.
The Labour Party would surely be reliant on the Scottish National Party to govern, and the consequence of this could be a very limited Brexit due to Scotland’s support for remaining in the European Union. Such a government may even have to commit to a second referendum on Scottish independence or a referendum on Northern Ireland leaving the United Kingdom. This would effectively mean the almost complete Balkanisation of the UK which would be without a strong government.
Opinion polling can be highly misleading. It’s worth remembering that prior to the 2010 General Election the Conservatives had towering leads in the polls but failed to win the General Election due to the strength of the Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Democrats in their bid to be the party of the 48 per cent who voted Remain in June’s referendum could once again deprive the Conservatives of office.
It is far better for the government to see out its five year term, complete the process of leaving the European Union and go to the country in 2020 on a manifesto based around completion of the process of Brexit. This would also allow the Scottish Conservatives to strengthen their position as the main party opposing Scottish independence. The stability of a full term of one government is clearly evident, one only has to regard the coalition’s stability and the economic growth that coincided with it for evidence that such continuity is of utmost importance.