Oh great, another election. Despite promising not to seek a vote before 2020, Theresa May has gone and called one for 8th June. This means that over the next seven weeks we can expect to see politicians on the telly on a daily basis. And the effects of this are going to be big, as one Twitter user remarked: "Ok, there's an election. We get it. Now put #ThisMorning back on."
But why is this happening? What's the issue this time? Here's the lowdown to keep you in the loop.
What is a snap election?
It is an election that is called earlier than expected. Kind of like a surprise break-up, it might seem like a shock but you always knew it was a possibility. The previous election was in 2015, so another was not due until 2020. May pledged several times after taking office last year not to call an early election, so this is something of a U-turn.
Why has the Prime Minister called one?
Because she thinks this is too good an opportunity to miss and says she wants to be in a stronger position for Brexit negotiations. Pollsters are putting the Conservatives on 44% and Labour on 23%, giving the Prime Minister a 21-point lead, the highest for the Tories in government since May 1992. “May has called this election for two reasons: one is it’s an open goal – it’s just a case of putting the ball into the net. The other is she expects potential problems in her own party,” says Andrew Blick, lecturer in politics and contemporary history at King's College London. “Whichever way these Brexit negotiations go – whether it’s soft or hard Brexit – she will upset one wing of her party. In other words, there will be problems unless she has a powerful mandate.”
Iain Begg, research fellow at LSE, says it is no surprise that a politician as risk-averse as Theresa May has decided to go for it now, when the opposition is so weak. “For many in the Labour party, the snap election will be an unwelcome development because it will expose even more glaringly the weak leadership of the party and risk a major loss of seats and influence in national politics.”
What are the key issues?
Peace out Europe, we’re gonna Brexit. Or are we? Does this election mean leaving the EU might not happen? And are there any other issues that count? Well, according to the experts, although Brexit is pretty much a done deal, there’s more to this election than last year's referendum result. Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University in London, reckons it's mainly about which party (and therefore also which party leader) voters trust and respect enough to run the country for the next five years. “Brexit is obviously a part of that but so, too, are the economy, health and education. Leaving the EU is important but it's not the be-all and end-all,” he says.
Others agree. Begg thinks that in British elections, the NHS and the economy invariably feature prominently. “I see no reason to believe this one will be different,” he says.
James Crouch, from the polling team at Opinium, is less sure. He thinks this election will be fought on very different terms from last time. “In 2015, the economy was probably the single key issue that dominated the campaign. Now, voters place Brexit, immigration and even terrorism and security as more important than the economy. We’ve seen this pattern for months now, and it seems unlikely to change during the campaign.”
Will turnout be high?
There’s a lot of chat about voter fatigue and the electorate being fed up with all these elections. So is it likely that people won’t bother turning out in big numbers, especially if it looks like it's a done deal for May? Yes, say the experts. “If it starts to look, after the campaigns have been underway for some time, as though it is a cakewalk for Theresa May, it will be likely to deter turnout,” says Begg.
Bale thinks the same. “I’d expect a low turnout. Research strongly suggests that turnout drops when people regard the outcome of the election as a foregone conclusion and when voting takes place relatively soon after another contest.”
After humiliatingly inaccurate predictions in the last general election, the pollsters are being more cautious this time. Crouch thinks it’s hard to gauge what turnout will be at this early stage in the campaign. “Early evidence suggests that older voters are more likely to vote, but this is a trend that’s been apparent for several elections now. However, there are more coherent themes for young voters to rally around this time. Several pro-Remain politicians are targeting the youth vote, so the generational gap in turnout might narrow during the campaign,” he says.
Are snap elections unusual?
The opposition and general public may have been taken by surprise with this, but snap elections are actually pretty standard. “Snap elections like this are more common than we might imagine. Harold Wilson used snap general elections twice – in 1966 and October 1974 – to improve his position in the Commons,” explains Crouch. “Prime ministers don’t like to embark on an extended period of government unless they are confident they have the majority to see their plans through to fruition. Some governments also call them simply because they don’t have sufficient authority to carry on."
However, snap elections don’t always go as planned and despite what the polls are saying, May is taking a risk. There are already unofficial murmurings of a Labour, Lib Dem and SNP coalition, but it would take a big change in public opinion (and a lot of tactical voting) for this to become a reality.
How can we vote?
Unfortunately this isn't as simple as voting in the RA end of year DJ poll or choosing us for a Webby. You can't leave it until the last minute as the deadline to get registered is 22nd May. You’ve got to be in it to win it so, first of all, you need to ensure you are eligible to vote. To do this you must be a UK citizen, over 18 and be on the electoral register. The good news is that if you voted in the EU referendum in 2016 (and haven't moved) you are likely already on the list.
Otherwise, you can register at www.gov.uk/register-to-vote where you’ll be asked to provide your name, date of birth, current address, past address if you have lived somewhere else in the last 12 months, and your National Insurance number. You can also do it by downloading the form from the website, or call your local election office and they’ll post one out.
It sounds complicated, but it's not. SO DO IT NOW. This election will determine our lives for the next five years or so and, despite what the polls may say, it's not necessarily a forgone conclusion. Not many were expecting a Trump victory and Brexit came as a shock, so whichever party you want to vote for, make sure your voice is heard.