Yesterday’s debate in Parliament on the calling of an early election provides a preview on how the election campaign will be fought by each party.
Tories – LEADERSHIP
While there has been much speculation as to the intentions behind Theresa May’s decision to call an early election, the debate yesterday revealed the nub of the issue. Theresa May has spoken about opposition in Westminster, but where she has felt this most keenly is from the Lords. By including a commitment to leave the EU in their manifesto, the Tories will bind the House of Lords to supporting this under the Salisbury convention – therefore strengthening the Government’s hand. While it will come as no surprise that Brexit will be central to the Tories’ campaign, this reveals exactly what is driving it – we can expect to see Brexit enshrined in their approach, even if the detail is absent.
As Theresa May outlined in her speech on the steps of Downing Street, the Tories are portraying calling an early election as a sign of stability and leadership, and the opportunity to strengthen their position for negotiation Brexit. In the same vein, they will seek to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership ability and to draw attention to the Labour party’s confused position on Brexit.
Labour – ANTI-ESTABLISHMENT
Although Brexit will dominate this election, Labour will also want to focus on the concerns of ordinary people, as Jeremy Corbyn outlined in his speech this morning when he accused the Conservatives of being a party of the Establishment. Labour will therefore use this election as an opportunity to hold the Conservatives to account for the last few years in power and the cost of austerity. In particular, they will focus on education, healthcare, and living standards where they feel the Government doesn’t have a good record.
However, when the issue of Brexit does arise, Labour will seek to press the Tories to define what their version of Brexit will be, and to offer an alternative model. Although Jeremy Corbyn was vague in his speech this morning about the party’s vision for Brexit, the party’s spokesperson has confirmed they still plan on measuring any deal against the six test Keir Starmer set out earlier this year.
On a personal level, the party will seek to undermine Theresa May’s credibility as Prime Minister by highlighting her u-turn over holding an election and her refusal to participate in the television debates. Although the issue of the election fraud currently being investigated in several Conservative seats was raised several times during the debate as an indicator of the lack of trustworthiness of the Tory party as a whole, whether this becomes a key message on the doorstep will depend on how much of a concern it is perceived as by voters.
SNP – ANTI-AUSTERITY
The SNP have been highly vocal in the media in recent weeks about their desire for a second referendum. However, as Nicola Sturgeon outlined earlier this week, this election presents a prime opportunity to further grow their support for another referendum. In the debate they argued that if the Conservatives felt it was right to give people a say on the future of the country, they shouldn’t also seek to block Scotland from doing the same with a referendum. However, on the campaign, they are much more likely to find that the prospect of rule by a Tory Westminster government indefinitely (and particularly the threat of further austerity they believe this brings) will resonate with voters.
Against this backdrop, it will be easy to argue that the Prime Minister does not have the country’s best interests at heart and has called an election for political expediency in order to secure her place before the realities of a hard Brexit are realised by the general public.
The current performance of the Labour Party will further strengthen the SNP’s desire to oppose the Tories, in lieu of a better opposition.
Lib Dems – ANTI-HARD BREXIT
The Lib Dems have already made it clear since the referendum that they will campaign against a hard Brexit so it should come as no surprise that this is likely to dominate their campaign in the election period.
Seeking to recover the seats they lost in the 2015 election, they will position themselves as being on the side of the 48% of voters who voted Remain and who they believe are being increasingly marginalised by the Tories ‘hard Brexit’ vision. Tim Farron has signalled that the election is the only real opportunity to change the direction that the country is going in.
Their success will in part be down to their ability to present themselves as a credible alternative to Labour and they will argue that the only means of containing the Tory party. As with Labour, when not focused on Brexit, they will be keen to appeal to voters who are less than satisfied with the Tories’ track record in government, highlight what they perceive as the Tories poor performance on health and education.
With the motion passing by 522 votes to 13, preparation for the election is now underway and we can expect to see these messages played out over the next few weeks.