That may seem an odd question. The general view is that the election is about Brexit and nothing else. But, even if that is right, what is it about Brexit which requires a general election? Mrs May says Westminster is not united, though the country is. In a sense, both those statements are untrue.
As was shown by the passage of the Article 50 Act through Parliament, Westminster is surprisingly united in its view that the referendum result must be honoured. Of course, the SNP and the Liberal Democrats take a different view, but they always will. The election is unlikely significantly to reduce the number of SNP members (though they will probably lose two or three seats) and the Liberal Democrats will almost certainly have a few more MPs than they have now. The parties which hope to reverse the referendum result will still be there after 8th June. Labour is, I accept, something of an unknown quantity. So far, however, the main opposition party has shown no sign of wishing to muck up the Brexit process (funnily enough the election may change that – there is already talk of the possibility that Labour will now favour a second referendum). And the House of Lords, mentioned by Mrs May in her announcement of the election, will, of course, be unchanged by the election. It will continue to be desperately anti-Brexit (its members are almost all appointed and appointed by Prime Ministers who would never have dreamt of appointing anyone – unless forced to – who opposed our membership of the EU). But their Lordships showed, on the Article 50 debates, that most of them (not all I accept) understand the need to bow to the will of the elected chamber.
It seems to me that most of Westminster is pretty united in its view, though sometimes expressed through gritted teeth, that Brexit can’t be stopped and that the national interest lies in supporting the government in its attempts to get the best deal for Britain in the negotiations.
Is the country united? I fear not. We must not forget that 48% of those who voted in the referendum voted to stay in the EU. I concede that many of them will have come round to Brexit in the last few months. But an awful lot of them, certainly what one might call the professional group think folk, are, if anything, even more in favour of our membership of the EU than they were before the referendum. Many of them seemed entirely civilised and reasonable before the referendum (perhaps because they assumed they would win it). But, since June last year, they have become almost fanatical in their adoration of Brussels and their hatred of those of us who voted to leave. I would be surprised if fewer than 35% of the electorate were now in favour of reversing the referendum result.
No, sadly, Mrs May is wrong to say the country is united behind Brexit. I wish she were right, but she isn’t. A very sizeable minority remains convinced that we made an appalling mistake on 23rd June last year, and nothing anyone says during the election campaign will convince them they are wrong.
Why have an election? Westminster is, maybe grudgingly, knuckling under and supporting the government. But a lot of voters are not. Wouldn’t it be better to soldier on?
Actually, I think Mrs May’s decision is rational. That is not because she has had any problems so far. She hasn’t. Everything has gone very well for her. Neither do I think there is anything in the fashionable notion that she is secretly intent on doing down the “hard brexiteers” and reckons that a large majority in the House of Commons will help her to achieve that. She is unusual. She has no political views, other than a conviction that the Tories should always win elections. The idea that she is secretly devoted to rule from Brussels is nonsense. She is not scheming to do down those who favour Brexit. She has concluded that Brexit has to happen, and that it has to involve our departure from the single market (though she will do her best to persuade the other EU countries that we should get a tariff free arrangement of some sort). But she realises that the present easy passage granted to the government may disappear by 2019. Westminster may not be united in its acceptance of the referendum result in two years’ time. It is prudent, therefore, to try to ensure that the government has a large majority in the Commons at the end of the negotiations.
So, Mrs May’s decision is rational. But that does not mean we should not be worried. She will be writing the manifesto. That document will say things about lots of issues other than Brexit. She has given us fair warning that she supports big government. She thinks liberty is a bad thing and state intervention is wonderful. Of course, we loyal Tories will vote for our party, but we may find we are stuck with manifesto commitments we will hate. Oh well, nothing we can do about that. And there must be every hope that there will be no time for our Prime Minister to drive through her state interventionist policies while Brexit takes centre stage.