It has not even been a year since Britain voted to leave the European Union. A lot has happened since; a new Prime Minister, an opposition leadership battle, and now a general election. But some things don’t change. Yes, Brexit is important and yes, the country has been divided by it, but the election on June 8th will not be a rerun of the referendum.
Any argument that states in the space of twelve months the political fault lines of the United Kingdom have been rewritten fails to ignore several key factors. Firstly, in recent times general elections have been about party leaders first, and issues second. In a parallel world with a stronger Labour Party to oppose Theresa May, would it be likely that she would call a general election? Opinion polls have time and time again shown that May is a stronger leader and a safer pair of hands than a ‘dangerous’ Jeremy Corbyn. In fact, a recent YouGov poll said only 13% of the British public believed he would make a better Prime Minister than Theresa May.
This cannot be overlooked. Jeremy Corbyn is almost impossibly unpopular for a leader of a party who have been out of power for seven years. Theresa May, on the other hand, is incredibly popular for a leader in the same situation. This general election will remain an election on who is the best person to lead the country, and not one based solely on the Brexit debate.
That’s not to dismiss it – it remains the most important issue for British public. The problem is, it’s exactly that; one of several key issues, along with health and the economy. These issues are key, but the leaders remain more important when voters cast their ballots.
The election itself cannot solely be on Brexit, whether the Conservative Party leadership want it to be or not. They know that a bigger majority in the House of Commons will have no impact on their ability to negotiate a deal with Brussels, but they want to keep talking about it because it’s clear they are the stronger party to get a better deal. Additionally, if this was a ‘Brexit election’, then surely it would be accepted that the Liberal Democrats, the only mainstream party pushing for a second referendum on the issue, would receive a huge boost in votes (close to the 48%)?
Something is changing in the way people vote; Brexit highlighted this issue. But when the UK wakes up on June 9th and likely sees an increased Conservative majority, it won’t be a direct effect of Remain vs Leave, it will be because Theresa May is seen as a far better alternative than Jeremy Corbyn by the majority of the British public.