Inevitably, the speculation has begun. With Theresa May’s Brexit plan going nowhere as she struggles to square circles between Cabinet, Parliament and country, The Sunday Times reports that Tory MPs are gearing up for a election this autumn. The odds about 2018 have halved in our Year of Next Election market but, at odds of [8.0], Betfair traders remain sceptical.
What are we to make of it? The Tories are certainly divided and, right now, no compromise solution regarding the Customs Union or Irish border seems to be getting traction. This is not a good time to be in government, but are they really prepared to risk it all by calling an election four years early?
Tory electoral prospects are nothing like 2017
We have of course been here before in 2017, when very few predicted May’s intentions. There was no significant gamble to indicate a snap poll until the April morning she announced it. Such are the perils of this particular political market – which ultimately involves reading somebody else’s mind.
Critically, however, this situation is very different. Back then, Tories were 20% up in the polls and relishing a once in a century opportunity to destroy the opposition. May was enjoying her honeymoon period, positioning herself as the defender of Brexit against saboteurs plotting to undermine the referendum result. A big majority would give her a free hand over parliamentary rebels on either side.
The consequential disaster fundamentally changed the environment. Nobody thinks, as so many Westminster pundits did then, that Labour are facing a Scotland-style wipeout. They are very much competitive and at least capable of again denying the Tories their majority. The PM is beleaguered on many fronts and only their most partisan supporters could argue that Brexit has been handled competently. Why on earth would they expect a better result now?
Has Corbyn peaked?
Well, there are a couple of reasons. Many read the recent local election results as evidence that Corbynism has already peaked. There is certainly no psephological evidence that Labour are on course for a majority and his approval ratings are shocking – 10% worse than the unpopular May.