- Lawrence Bailey
Could 2018 see another general election?
For me, the most iconic moment of 2017 politics was the reaction of Brenda from Bristol to the news that Theresa May had called a snap election.
“Not anor-ther one”, wailed an exasperated Brenda, echoing the sentiments of almost an entire nation.
And yet, according to some pundits, it’s possible that we could be heading off to the polls for a third time in four years.
Economists at US-owned Morgan Stanley predict it happening if Conservative disharmony in Westminster over Brexit continues. A few other financial and public policy bodies also echo that view.
Then there’s the enticing odds quoted by bookmakers Paddy Power who were offering 6/4 on a 2018 general election. They reckon just one parliamentary setback, such as losing a Brexit amendment, could be the catalyst.
All the solid political reasons for not going to the country again are pretty much the same as those that applied last time around, if not more so.
Survival for the government depends on deals and constitutional jiggery-pokery. That's the result of last year's ill-judged leap into the electoral abyss. Surely Theresa May is not about to repeat her mistake, especially when her party has such an poor standing in current polls.
But the days of conventional thinking are definitely long gone - and who says May will be at the tory helm for much longer anyway. It may well be a successor who decides.
The parties themselves are giving out mixed signals.
Labour is on a notional war footing, choosing candidates to fight ‘theoretical’ target seats whilst rooting out the disloyal elsewhere. Conservatives meanwhile are busy beefing up their social media capability following a painfully inept 2017 campaign.
Seasoned lobby-watchers however dismiss all this activity as phoney war stuff. They firmly insist there’s little appetite to fight a general election or any intent to cause one.
Several of them cite upcoming English local and mayoral elections as useful weathervanes. The flaw in this though is that the outcome of last year’s municipal contests projected a 60-plus tory Commons majority. The reality, as we know, was very different.
The same kind of unpredictability seems to apply to the ‘youth vote’ that parties are so keen to exploit. A post-election survey showed the biggest jump in numbers casting ballots was actually among 30-40 year olds and not the youngest groups.
This revelation comes as Labour talk up their credentials as a mass movement but find it damned hard work to get activist boots on the ground from a generation who prefer to fight the class struggle on Snapchat.
It’s inevitable that an election would be seen as a re-run of the EU referendum at a time when suspicion grows among leavers that both Conservatives and Labour are manoeuvring towards a soft - if not elastic – version of Brexit.
So what are the actual chances that we’ll be voting again this year? I put this same question to a hugely unscientific straw poll of fellow fact-crunchers in a London coffee house. Their verdict was “unlikely but not impossible”. If that leaves you less than fulfilled then all I can say is welcome to my world.
For what it’s worth, I think voters are looking to the respective parties for something that’s still not currently on offer. Another election isn’t going to change that.