The strange case of the UK

UK elections: communicating under the weight of Brexit

Image: DFID - UK Department for International Development / Wikimedia Commons


Theresa May’s decision to trigger a General Election shocked even the most seasoned experts. Despite constant statements ruling out an early visit to the polls, Mrs May changed her mind. But this will be no ordinary election but instead one focused on Brexit…. or so the PM would like.

Her communications challenge will be to keep the agenda focused on Brexit when actually there is not that much to say. Her stated aim in announcing the election is to remove opposition in Westminster to Brexit but that simply will not happen, however big her win might be. The SNP in Scotland will not keep quiet and by taking on the House of Lords, Mrs May could simply antagonise them.

At the same time, her main challenger, Labour under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, want to play a Trump, insurgent, anti-establishment line and shift the debate onto issues where they think the public trusts them – primarily the NHS and education.

If the conduct of recent UK elections are anything to go by then things could get nasty. Corbyn will be targeted by many of the newspapers because of his previous comments on issues such as terrorism whilst Mrs May will focus on his perceived unsuitability to be Prime Minister, important with the business of Brexit to deliver she will argue. Corbyn’s personal poll ratings are extremely low but in his insurgent view of the world, such polls are not to be trusted.

It remains the case that no one really knows what a May government really looks like outside of Brexit, some changes to education, and talk of a more active, interventionist industrial strategy. This is her chance to sketch out what she will deliver but Brexit will dominate. We eagerly await the publication of the party manifestos.

The chances of Mrs May winning are high. The challenge will be in dealing with the consequences. With Scotland likely to remain firmly anti-Brexit and pro- SNP, it will be difficult to avoid a second independence referendum. Northern Ireland could change in political composition and the problem of a hard border between North and South makes the chances of a rupture with London a more distinct possibility. She also needs to win big, a majority of 80 or more seats, if her decision isn’t to be seen as a gamble that has gone wrong.

So whilst Mrs May is likely to win, she might just create more problems rather she is solving.