A backbench Labour MP put his finger on it during the parliamentary debate on whether there should be a snap election. Essentially he asked: since the Prime Minister has said that she needs a stronger majority to make Brexit work, and given that the sole purpose of the election is to get that stronger majority, what is Plan B if she fails?
It’s obvious what happens if she does so badly that she’s not even able to form a government, but what if she ends up with the same sort of majority that she currently has, or a smaller one? What if she only finds herself leading the largest single party in a hung parliament?
OK, there are sound reasons for thinking that none of these scenarios are likely to arise. But a democrat must accept that elections do not have predetermined outcomes, and should be able to provide clarity on what her intentions would be if she falls short of her own arbitrary notion of an adequate victory.
Would she resign? Would she keep calling elections until she is either defeated or gets a landslide majority? Or would she shift the goalposts yet again, declare that ‘a win is a win’, and carry on as before – thus rendering the entire election a monumental waste of time and money?
When you ponder these questions, you begin to appreciate why it may be a little unfair to argue that Theresa May has seized the day where Gordon Brown bottled it in 2007. It is very hard to justify calling a general election when you already have an absolute majority of seats in parliament and still have three years of your term of office to run.
Brown wouldn’t have been able to pray in aid the “national interest” cobblers that May was conveniently able to trot out, but even in May’s case nobody is really falling for it. It is becoming increasingly understood that this election is not about Brexit in any meaningful sense, but is instead about the Conservative party’s naked self-interest. The electorate are well aware that they are being taken for granted.
Which means the dynamic of the forthcoming campaign should be entirely different from any we’ve seen since at least February 1974. After all, what is the reason for the Conservatives having such an enormous opinion poll lead over Labour? It’s largely that the public don’t have confidence in Labour to form a stable or successful government. But once it’s factored in that Jeremy Corbyn is definitely not going to become Prime Minister on June 9, the implicit question on the ballot paper changes.
It’s not ‘May or Corbyn?’, but rather ‘Do you want May to get away with this stunt, or do you want her to be cut down to size?’ When wavering Labour voters start looking at the election through that prism, they may find it somewhat easier to stick with their usual party. And there’s certainly very little chance of the Tories successfully repeating their scare tactics from two years ago, about the prospect of a weak Labour Prime Minister being in the pocket of Nicola Sturgeon or Alex Salmond.
It may seem a strange thing to say, but it’s not totally impossible that this election could yet leave Jeremy Corbyn with a half-decent mention in the history books. Just getting to the point of fighting a general election as leader is a mini-triumph, and ensures that he can’t be written out of Labour’s story as a mistake that was corrected before it mattered. Once the formal campaign gets underway, strict rules will apply to the broadcasters, and Corbyn will start to receive a much fairer hearing than he has thus far. It’s up to him what he makes of that opportunity, but if he can claw back enough support to at least keep the Tory majority below what was achieved at the 1987 or 1959 elections, the legend that Labour always does worst when its leadership is in left-wing hands will be somewhat undermined.
Another legend that this election could unmake is the one about Ruth Davidson being an effective leader of the Scottish Conservative party. It’s too often forgotten that she led her party to a record-breaking low vote of just 14.9% at the general election two years ago. Opinion polls say she is now faring better, but Theresa May’s U-turn on a snap election has left her in an awful place. Her sole strategy over recent weeks has been to invite the public to send a message to Nicola Sturgeon that they don’t want the “needless distraction” of a second independence referendum – which might just put ideas in people’s heads about punishing the Tories for forcing them to make a needless trip to the polling stations in June.
James Kelly's blog, Scot goes POP!, is among the most popular political blogs in the UK. He has also contributed to a number of newspapers and magazines.
James has also written for us about the tyranny of Theresa May, the madness of King Trump, the crisis created by the Brexit legal challenge and why Scottish Labour care more about Corbyn than their country.