Theresa May addressing the House of Commons in London on Wednesday. AFP PIC

NEWS that the mother of all Parliaments will be holding a snap election on June 8, three years earlier then scheduled, came as a bombshell.

It caught all media organisations in the United Kingdom (UK) offguard, including the establishment’s British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and international organisations.

There was no clue that Prime Minister Theresa May was going to make such an announcement as she met the press at 10, Downing Street.

The snap election follows her handling of the divorce from the European Union or Brexit, which saw her trigger Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, which allows any country in the 28-member Eurozone to leave the bloc.

In a move to bolster her position to get the divorce underway, the 60-year-old Conservative leader is seeking a new mandate to strengthen her hand.

May’s decision to dissolve Parliament is believed to be based on opinion polls that show her Conservative party has a massive lead over the opposition. Recent polls show the Conservatives to be nine to 21 points ahead of the Labour party headed by Jeremy Corbyn.

A BBC Poll of Polls on April 18, averaging on recent polls conducted by YouGov, Opinium, ComRes and ICM polls throughout the UK showed the Conservatives leading with 43 per cent support, Labour with 25 per cent, UK Independence Party with 11 per cent, Liberal Democratic Party with 10 per cent, Scottish National Party with five per cent and Green Party with four per cent.

Yet, opinion polls have a way of becoming a nightmare.

The opinion polls in the run-up to Brexit itself tell you of the narrow outcome of those against the move for Brexit.

Most polls in the run-up to the June 23 Brexit referendum indicated that the UK would remain in the bloc. The leave bloc won by 51.9 per cent to 48.1 per cent. The referendum turnout was 71.8 per cent, with more than 30 million people voting.

The referendum outcome shocked many, as voters threw out the form book and forecast opinion polls to trigger the first step in Britain’s long road to divorce from the Eurozone, which would end a 44-year marriage.

This outcome, of course, saw then prime minister and Conservative leader David Cameron’s move to honour the promise that he made in the previous general election to give UK citizens the opportunity to determine their future in the bloc come back not only to haunt him but led to him calling it a day in his political career.

It also saw a sharp division between the younger and older generations over the outcome of the referendum, with naysayers calling for a fresh referendum.

The United States (US) presidential election, which took place last year, was another instance where too much reliance was placed on opinion polls to predict the results.

Hardly any opinion poll in the US gave then presidential candidate Donald Trump or the Republicans a chance. Instead, nearly all opinion polls gave former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and the Democrats the nod as to who would become the 45th US president.

The reverberations of the unexpected election outcome are still being felt today.

A snap election, called on the assumption of an easy victory, could backfire on an incumbent party. This can be seen in previous snap polls held in the UK, such as the ones held following the 1923, 1931 and the 1974 general elections. The incumbent party did not do well.

Parties other than May’s Conservatives could also be better prepared despite the short notice given.

In the 2015 general election, the Conservatives scored a thumping victory, winning 331 seats in the 650-strong House of Commons. The Labour Party, laboured to secure only 232 seats in the lower house of Parliament. The Scottish National Party clinched 56 seats.

The biggest surprise was the Liberal Democrats, which had been part of a coalition government in the previous administration. It secured only eight seats, the lowest it ever garnered since 1992 when it first contested.

As the preparations gather pace for the snap election, the knives are already out. May faces challenges such as the likelihood of yet another Scottish independence referendum, whether voters will back Brexit and the triggering of Article 50, and the direction the UK will take following the elections.

The snap election outcome may or may not mirror the results of the Brexit referendum. It remains to be seen whether the opinion polls made the right call on how Britons would vote.

sureshnst@gmail.com

The writer is a curious cat who
believes that his curiosity is going to get the better of him one day. This Perak-born Tottenham Hotspurs supporter has two decades of
journalism under his belt

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