General election could be 'really, really disastrous', admit Labour MPs

Corbyn's Labour is 21 points behind the Conservatives according to a recent poll (Rex)
Corbyn’s Labour are 21 points behind the Conservatives according to a recent YouGov poll (Rex)

Labour supporters fear the party could be heading for electoral disaster after Theresa May called for a general election to take place in just seven weeks.

The Prime Minister made the plea to British voters to put their trust in her on June 8 to deliver what she claimed would be a good result from Brexit.

Mrs May, who has been widely mocked after repeatedly denying she would call an election before the next scheduled poll in 2020, said: “The country is coming together but Westminster is not.”

What does this mean for Labour?

A lot of the attention has been the potential impact on Jeremy Corbyn’s party.

In a statement, in which he failed to mention Brexit, Corbyn said he welcomed the prime minister’s “decision to give the British people the chance to vote for a government that will put the interests of the majority first.”

“Labour will be offering the country an effective alternative to a government that has failed to rebuild the economy, delivered falling living standards and damaging cuts to our schools and NHS,” he said.

“In the last couple of weeks, Labour has set out policies that offer a clear and credible choice for the country. We look forward to showing how Labour will stand up for the people of Britain.”

But Mr Corbyn is not blessed with widespread support by his own MPs – and the Labour leader was hit with an early blow when Alan Johnson and Tom Blenkinsop announced they would not stand in the election.

Mr Blenkinsop said: “I have made no secret about my significant and irreconcilable differences with the current Labour leadership.”

More are also thought to be considering their options.

Mr Corbyn’s own favourability ratings among the public are also way down on Theresa May’s.

Indeed, one of the country’s leading election experts has warned that the party is likely to be incapable of fighting an effective election.

Respected pollster John Curtice, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde, said that Mr Corbyn’s party is “at sixes and sevens on its stance on Brexit“.

Speaking on BBC News, Mr Curtice said: “The Labour party is at sixes and sevens on its stance on Brexit. There are divisions inside the Conservative party but the opposition is probably even more divided on the subject and she’s probably banking that so long as this remains the central issue, the Labour party will not be capable of fighting an effective alternative position.”

Others have described the party as being in a mad panic. “We’ve all thought what if there’s a general election, but had not really thought through what would actually happen. It could be really, really disastrous,” a former shadow Cabinet minister told the Guardian.

What does the public think?

Labour are polling way behind the Conservatives according to most political surveys — which is why the Prime Minister believes she will be able to increase her slender majority in the House of Commons.

This week’s YouGov/Times voting intention figures put the Conservatives on 44 per cent (up from 42 per cent last week). Labour are on 23 per cent (down from 25 per cent last week), giving the Tories a 21 point lead.

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These results represent the lowest voting intention share for Labour since June 2009 when the party was in power and Gordon Brown was Prime Minister.

Mrs May is the favoured choice for best Prime Minister, with 50 per cent of people preferring her to Jeremy Corbyn, who is backed by just 14 per cent of voters; 36 per cent stay they don’t know.

However, Mr Curtice also noted that Theresa May’s gamble would not necessarily pay off.

“We should bear in mind that Theresa May is very much going for a ‘vote Conservative for my vision of Brexit’. And that perhaps is going to make some Conservative voters unhappy,” he said.

“If that lead were to narrow then we could discover that she is back with a rather smaller majority than perhaps she is hoping for.”

Didn’t Theresa May say she didn’t want any early election?

Yes. Many times.

When the prime minister announced plans for an early election in June, she will have known she would be immediately hammered by her critics.

Here are a handful of them:

30 June, 2016

“There should be no general election until 2020. There should be a normal autumn statement held in the normal way, at the normal time, and no emergency budget.”

4 September, 2016

“I’m not going to be calling a snap election. I’ve been very clear that I think we need that period of time, that stability, to be able to deal with the issues that the country is facing and have that election in 2020.”

There were also numerous reported quotes, including:

1 October, 2016

“Theresa May has ruled out the possibility of a general election before 2020 due to the risk of “instability” posed by a snap vote.”

7 March, 2017

“A No 10 source said: “It’s not going to happen. It’s not something she plans to do or wishes to do.””

And though she insisted her dramatic reverse had been made ‘recently and reluctantly” – it still amounts to an embarrassing U-turn.

How about the SNP?

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described the election call as “a huge political miscalculation by the Prime Minister”, accusing Mrs May of “once again putting the interests of her party ahead of those of the country” .

” It will once again give people the opportunity to reject the Tories’ narrow, divisive agenda, as well as reinforcing the democratic mandate which already exists for giving the people of Scotland a choice on their future,” said the SNP leader.

And the Lib Dems?

Tim Farron said the election provided an opportunity to block “a disastrous hard Brexit”.

“This election is your chance to change the direction of our country,” he said in a message to voters.

“If you want to avoid a disastrous hard Brexit. If you want to keep Britain in the single market. If you want a Britain that is open, tolerant and united, this is your chance. Only the Liberal Democrats can prevent a Conservative majority.”

What do the bookies say?

Bookmakers William Hill has slashed its odds on the Conservatives winning the next general election (which, up until 11am today, was looking like being in 2020) with an overall majority from 8/13 to 2/9.

This was Ms May’s statement from outside Downing Street in full:

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

“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.

“Last summer, after the country voted to leave the European Union, Britain needed certainty, stability and strong leadership, and since I became Prime Minister the Government has delivered precisely that.

“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.

“We have also delivered on the mandate that we were handed by the referendum result.”