Theresa May's general election announcement: What she said and what she really meant

Our Chief Political Commentator reads between the lines of the Prime Minister's statement

John Rentoul
Tuesday 18 April 2017 16:36 BST
What Theresa May said and what she really meant, according to John Rentoul

What Theresa May said: I have just chaired a meeting of the Cabinet, where we agreed that the Government should call a general election, to be held on 8 June.

What she really meant: I have just chaired a meeting of the Cabinet, where my ministers were completely taken by surprise and very annoyed that three more years of ministerial limousines would be interrupted by having to shake hands with voters.

What she said: I want to explain the reasons for that decision, what will happen next and the choice facing the British people when you come to vote in this election.

What she meant: I need to go through the motions of explaining why an election is in the national interest. Basically, it is because it is in the interest of the Conservative Party.

What she said: Despite predictions of immediate financial and economic danger, since the referendum we have seen consumer confidence remain high, record numbers of jobs, and economic growth that has exceeded all expectations.

What she meant: Osborne, take the hint and this chance to follow your posh-boy friend Cameron out of Parliament.

What she said: Britain is leaving the European Union and there can be no turning back. And as we look to the future, the Government has the right plan for negotiating our new relationship with Europe.

What she meant: The right plan is to demand tariff-free access to the EU single market, but there is nothing I can do to force the other 27 to agree, so I’m going to secure my position for the next five years before it all goes pear-shaped.

Theresa May calls general election for June 8

What she said: At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division. The country is coming together, but Westminster is not. In recent weeks Labour has threatened to vote against the deal we reach with the European Union.

What she meant: It is all Jeremy Corbyn’s fault that I have been forced to call an election. He’s so useless no rational politician could pass up the chance to run against him.

What she said: And unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way.

What she meant: They were outvoted by unelected members of the Lords who voted to get on with it and to start the Article 50 process, but I shall pose as the democratic tribune of the 52 per cent.

What she said: Our opponents believe that because the Government's majority is so small, our resolve will weaken and that they can force us to change course.

What she meant: They don’t, of course, because Labour’s official position was to wave Article 50 through, but they could change their minds and try to vote against the final Brexit deal.

What she said: They underestimate our determination to get the job done and I am not prepared to let them endanger the security of millions of working people across the country.

What she meant: Did you get that? The royal “we” and the Thatcherite determination. Remind you of anyone?

Politicans react to Theresa May's call for a general election

What she said: If we do not hold a general election now, [the] political game-playing will continue, and the negotiations with the European Union will reach their most difficult stage in the run-up to the next scheduled election.

What she meant: This bit is true. I don’t want the Brexit talks going horribly wrong that close to when I was going to have an election.

What she said: So we need a general election and we need one now, because we have at this moment a one-off chance to get this done while the European Union agrees its negotiating position and before the detailed talks begin.

What she meant: The royal “we” have a one-off chance to thrash the Labour Party good and proper. These opinion polls are the best we’ve had in government since 1983.

What she said: I have only recently and reluctantly come to this conclusion.

What she meant: The Tory lead in the polls has only recently broken the the 20-point barrier.

What she said: Since I became Prime Minister I have said that there should be no election until 2020, but now I have concluded that the only way to guarantee certainty and stability for the years ahead is to hold this election and seek your support for the decisions I must take.

What she meant: Election timing is one of the three things prime ministers are allowed to lie about, the others being devaluations and their resignations. Journalists will say “but you said...” for about 20 minutes this afternoon, but then the election caravan will move on.

What she said: And so tomorrow I will move a motion in the House of Commons calling for a general election to be held on 8 June. That motion, as set out by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, will require a two-thirds majority of the House of Commons ... Let us tomorrow vote for an election, let us put forward our plans for Brexit and our alternative programmes for government and then let the people decide.

What she meant: “Let the people decide” is pretty much the clincher, here.

What she said: And the decision facing the country will be all about leadership. It will be a choice between strong and stable leadership in the national interest, with me as your Prime Minister, or weak and unstable coalition government, led by Jeremy Corbyn, propped up by the Liberal Democrats – who want to reopen the divisions of the referendum – and Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP.

What she meant: Remember Ed Miliband in Alex Salmond’s pocket? We will do that again, with added ruthlessness.

What she said: Every vote for the Conservatives will make it harder for opposition politicians who want to stop me from getting the job done.

What she meant: This is how parliamentary democracy works. The bigger my majority, the more powerful I am.

Times Theresa May has said there won't be an election until 2020

What she said: It was with reluctance that I decided the country needs this election, but it is with strong conviction that I say it is necessary to secure the strong and stable leadership the country needs to see us through Brexit and beyond.

What she meant: Last month I said with strong conviction that an election would be a disruption. Today I say with equally strong conviction that I need this election. Otherwise the country will slide into the chaos of having to stick to Cameron and Osborne’s stupid manifesto promises and having to make Budget U-turns every five minutes.

What she said: So, tomorrow, let the House of Commons vote for an election, let everybody put forward their proposals for Brexit and their programmes for Government, and let us remove the risk of uncertainty and instability and continue to give the country the strong and stable leadership it demands.

What she meant: Let us get the Jeremy Corbyn attack file out of the Central Office computer while he is still Labour leader.

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