Head to Head: A General Election

As of last week, Theresa May now has until the 31st October to pass a deal for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. Some believe this extension should be used to call a general election- giving the winner a renewed mandate to negotiate a deal and break the deadlock parliament currently finds itself in. Others believe this would further exacerbate the problems.

In favour of a General Election- Campaign Agent Sam Jacobsen

The six-month Brexit extension agreed last week is a lifeline that must not be squandered. This breathing space must be used effectively, by a government with a majority in Parliament to pass its vision of our future relationship with the European Union. 

Theresa May has had three attempts at passing her Brexit deal, each time meeting with resounding failure. She has blamed obstructionist MPs for blocking what she claims is the will of the people. If she is right, then why not go to the polls, fill the Commons with MPs sympathetic to her cause, and get her legislation through on a fourth attempt? May supposedly called the 2017 general election in order to secure a mandate for her Brexit plan. When the electorate firmly refused to give her that mandate, she should have resigned immediately. Instead, we have been led for two years by a prime minister with no majority in Parliament, and increasingly little support from her own party. Only last week, veteran Tory Michael Heseltine called her ‘a leader in name only’. The chances of her recovering from this dire position and effecting meaningful change are virtually nil. Even if she were to walk away, a new Tory prime minister, with literally zero mandate from the electorate, would have no legitimacy on which to build a platform. An election would be the only fair outcome.

The most likely result of an election, according to recent polls, would be a Labour victory. It remains to be seen whether Jeremy Corbyn can negotiate the type of close relationship with Europe he advocates for Britain, but it’s hard to see how he could do any worse than May. It certainly seems that a Parliament dominated by Labour MPs would be more likely to support a ‘soft’ Brexit. Producing a manifesto should force the shadow cabinet to finally make a decision on whether to endorse a second referendum. With that political headache out of the way, Labour could focus on refining the details of its actual Brexit policy. 

Cross-party talks between the Tories and Labour have come too little too late. Of course, it is frustrating that the two major parties have ostensibly put their own interests above securing a good deal. But political parties are bureaucratic machines that prioritise acquiring and maintaining power above all else. To expect them to be selfless is unrealistic, especially when consorting with the enemy is so dangerous. As soon as Theresa May started negotiating  with Corbyn, her party turned on her, claiming that she was effectively laying out the red carpet for a Labour government. In such an antagonistic political landscape, only a regime with a decisive majority can break the Brexit deadlock once and for all.

Murmurs of a general election are coming from many quarters, not just from lefties who want the Tories out. Several articles in the the right-wing Spectator have supported the idea. There have even been reports of Downing Street planning for a potential election in June. Whether that will happen is far from certain, but it is exactly what is needed. If the people are not given a chance to elect a new Parliament, we will most likely still be stuck in this miserable Brexit deadlock once the new Halloween deadline comes around.

Against a General Election- Campaign Agent Eleanor Longman- Rood

Brexit is the democratic result of putting the question of our EU membership to the public at large. Yet, now it’s being framed as a problem that needs to be solved for the sake of the country. A general election is just the latest of such proposed solutions. However, a general election at this point would only introduce further complications. 

We need to ask ourselves what calling a general election at this point would achieve for the country. Traditionally, they are a democratic tool to increase political engagement while implementing stable government for the future. A general election at this point in time, however, would not deliver this.  We all remember the video that went viral at the announcement of the 2017 snap general election. Bristol resident, Brenda, expressed her strong discontent to reporter Jon Kay as he revealed to her that May had called an election. While the video may have been humorous in nature, it displayed how citizens are feeling disengaged from British politics.

This is a trend that has only continued. Across daily life, British politics has become the inevitable elephant in the room as everyone is utterly exasperated by the behaviour of Parliament. Calling another general election at the moment will not solve this. 

Elections may be an important and noble part of our country’s democracy, yet they are also a highly expensive procedure. The 2017 snap election cost over £143 million, a 16% increase from the 2015 election (which still cost a substantial £123 million). The EU referendum, which was reported to have cost taxpayers £123 million, was not a cheap affair either. I can’t help but ask if this money would be better spent trying to effectively deliver the results of our last democratic vote, rather than call another one? 

Polls are calling that the results of a general election this year would cause losses of up to 60 seats for the Conservatives. The same estimate would leave Labour the largest party, giving them the ability to form a majority government with the help of the SNP. Whether you agree with Corbyn’s domestic policies or not, his stance on the recent Brexit proceedings has certainly been ambiguous. For months, Corbyn stayed in the shadows; when he finally broke his silence it was to announce that Labour was now backing a second referendum, indicating that a Labour government may mean no Brexit at all. Yet, where was Corbyn when the question of a second referendum was voted on? If this was now his stance, it would be reasonable to assume he'd want to express this in Parliament. In fact, he did quite the opposite. He abstained from the vote while encouraging Labour MP’s to do the same, as he believed it was not the correct time. No one understands what his Brexit would look like, perhaps least of all Corbyn himself. What the country needs is stability, which will not be achieved by placing a leader in power whose latest policy has been defined by its ambiguity. A general election threatens to do just this. 

The question we are debating is whether a general election is right for the country currently. This is not to say that one should not be called at a later date, but our first priority has to be on delivering Brexit- even if this means setting aside partisan differences and working together with Downing Street. When a train is heading down a certain track, changing the driver isn't going to alter the destination, at least not without it completely derailing. It is time to understand that we cannot keep putting obstacles in front of Brexit. We have wasted too much time framing it in the wrong way. Brexit may not be what we envisioned for the country, but if we stop addressing it as a problem we have an opportunity to make it truly work for Britain.

Image: UK Parliament @flickr


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