British PM Theresa May has called a snap general election for the 8 June.
She came out of Number 10 Downing Street late this morning and stood at the lectern and delivered her notice of election, ‘reluctantly’.
Opening her announcement she said: “Reluctantly, I have chaired a meeting of the Cabinet where we reluctantly agreed that the government should call a general election to be held on June 8, a date that will hereafter be known as Reluctance Day.”
She added that consumer confidence, jobs, and economic growth were on a high, and said: “Britain is leaving the EU and there can be no turning back.”
In a statement resonating the ‘This lady’s not for turning’ image of Margaret Thatcher, PM Theresa May has nailed her colours to the political mast. One of the main reasons this decision was taken was that the cabinet thought that a general election coinciding and conflicting with the Brexit negations would be too complex. Also, the Tories see an opportunity to back-foot Labour which is suffering from internal disputes. But in a political twist, she may actually galvanise the Labour movement to a new solidarity and direction, but that has to be seen. Many feel Labour is drinking in the last chance saloon and the Lib Dems are rubbing their hands with glee at the opportunity to become the second biggest party in the UK.
So from a Northern Ireland perspective, what can be read into this sudden decision to call an election on 8 June. Will there he another NI Assembly election held on the same day or will the electorate be subjected to another day of voting and hype further increasing their frustration with elected representatives and actually deepening the gulf between communities?
And for policy areas such as health, long-term political hot potatoes, Westminster ministers will have full control to impose sweeping changes to our local hospitals and health care system is a radical shake-up… if Direct Rule is imposed. There is no doubt that there will be winners and losers in this process of change. Despite NI politicians making localistic demands that their hospitals remain open, they fall into a trap where the health service goes in a flat spin and this would suit the Tory government who will continue with their creeping privatisation of the health service. Political chaos in NI only suits the broader Tory aims, so it is imperative that the Assembly provides a suitable system of checks and balances and challenges any inroads into the NHS. This is true also of our elected MP’s who attend Westminster.
But if I was a betting man, which I am not, I would put my money on Direct Rule because the PM and the Cabinet do not want to have their flank opened up uncontrollably with the ‘Irish Question’ and the quandary over a hard border with neither North or South wants.
The rise in the Sinn Féin vote in the last Assembly election must be a cause for concern for all other parties, and if it again increases even further, it will be a landmark event in Northern Irish politics as Sinn Féin become the largest party. It remains to be seen if the DUP would serve in an Assembly in such circumstances.
So perhaps Secretary of State James Brokenshire has been keeping his powder dry for the final shoot out where the political state-of-play in Northern Ireland reaches a position of further confrontation in a post-General and post-Assembly election scenario. As this ideological kaleidoscopic melange trundles on to its conclusion, the politicians involved also need to recognise their ultimate responsibilities and take aboard that just round the corner are the Twelfth celebrations and it just takes a spark to start a bonfire of street disturbances etc!
But this year they may have little to celebrate around the Twelfth as the Assembly is finally prorogued and Direct Rule installed leaving Northern Ireland at the hands of a strong majority Tory government with Westminster-based mandarins running Northern Ireland from afar.
Whether or not this can be deemed to be beneficial will remain to be seen. But a hard right Tory administration determined to force through a probable hard Brexit will leave little room to manoeuvre for Northern Ireland despite promises from Westminster that a hard border with the ROI will not happen.
In the absence of clear detail and direction from Westminster and the abundance of speculation, confusion and uncertainty, whatever happens, there is one thing we are sure of… UK and probably Irish politics are heading for a bumpy and transformative time ahead. The electorate are increasingly becoming agitated at the lack of provision of a devolved government in Northern Ireland, but within the parameters of the party-political systems that have historically been thrust upon them, there is a limit to the process of change that can take place. It is a form of political determinism with few options of immediate improvement.
It is a case regionally and nationally of immovable objects and irresistible forces… of transformation and determinism. Revolution can be tumultuous.
Commenting on the Prime Ministers announcement that a General Election is to be called on 8 June, Retail NI Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said: “The timing of this General Election poses a significant challenge to the current talks on restoring devolution. Retail NI and the business community as a whole, want to see these talks reach a successful conclusion and for the Assembly and Executive to be restored.”
“Political stability is the essential basis for economic growth.
“The focus of this election should be on Policy and what type of Brexit is best for Northern Ireland and the UK as a whole. Setting out a new vision for the future of the our local economy should be the central issue in this election for political parties, locally and nationally”.