Britain’s Shift to the Right

Image courtesy of REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth. Copyright 2017 Thompson Reuters. Click for restrictions

Britain’s voters will head to the polls on June 8 to effectively elect their new Prime Minister. Much to the surprise of the world, current Prime Minister Theresa May called for a snap election to be held just halfway through her five year term. She hopes to increase the margin of the Conservative party in Britain, which currently only holds a slim majority of 330 of the 600 seats in Parliament. When May was chosen as Prime Minister to replace David Cameron, she signaled that she had no interest in calling a snap election before her term was naturally finalized. She has broken that promise, and with the approval of the current Parliament, the short campaign season has begun.

With Britain’s exit from the European Union looming large on the horizon, May called for the snap election in hopes of garnering support for domestic policies and a mandate for a hard Brexit. May was chosen as Prime Minister in a special election after Britain’s vote for Brexit, so by calling for an actual election now she will have more sway over Parliament going into tough negotiations throughout the process. She seeks to shore up support while polling suggests voters are leaning more conservatively than in recent times.

The left leaning Labour Party is projected to lose many of its seats in the upcoming snap election. If that turns out to be true it will signal an era of upheaval for the party and a likely challenge to the current leader, Jeremy Corbyn. The Left seems to be in disarray after the shocking Brexit vote and they are struggling to find their voice in this relatively new populist movement. Without an effective leader or direction, and still reeling from the Brexit referendum,  opposition seats have been targeted by Conservatives and polling signals a significant swing to the right.

The rise of Theresa May and her Conservative party reflects a global shift towards protectionism. The current far-right nominee for president in France, Marine Le Pen, shares May’s disdain for immigration and supports French movements to leave the EU. Across the Atlantic President Donald Trump has promised a Muslim ban and a wall across the Mexican border. These populist and nationalist leaders from across the globe are united in their push towards protectionism, and they feel empowered by their vocal supporters.

One thing to keep in mind is that while polling in Britain is forecasting an assured victory for the Conservative Party, Europeans should not forget the infamously poor polling before the Brexit vote last summer. Theresa May’s move to call a snap election can be seen as a savvy political maneuver, designed to strike while the iron is hot and support for her vision is high. The flip side to that argument is that she may see a future where her support wanes as these populist referendums take hold and the voters experience first hand what it’s like to live in a nation that closes its borders. With Trump’s approval ratings in decline and the outcome of the French election still uncertain, May’s Conservative Party could be peaking in support and popularity. It will be up to the opposition parties of Britain to take advantage of wavering voters and move the needle back towards center.

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