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Even though Theresa May says that “every election is a risk”, no Conservative prime minister in recent times has entered an election campaign with such a commanding poll lead over Labour: 20 points, according to the FT poll tracker.
Tory strategists are targeting more than 70 Labour seats, as Mrs May looks to significantly increase her Commons majority of 17, strengthening her hand on Brexit and giving her five years to push through her domestic agenda.
The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has just over six weeks to prove his doubters wrong. But decision makers in Westminster and Brussels are already looking beyond the June 8 election and are asking: what could Mrs May do next?
Immediate cabinet reshuffle
The prime minister formed her first cabinet in July 2016 in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum. Her choices reflected a need to put prominent Leavers, including Boris Johnson, into top jobs to reassure the public that she was serious about Brexit.
After a victory on June 8, Mrs May will have a personal mandate to deliver Brexit on her terms and much more leeway to assemble a team in her own image, even if her aides currently insist she will not carry out a big shake-up.
Cameron-era ministers such as justice secretary Elizabeth Truss and communities secretary Sajid Javid are among those tipped for demotion. Mrs May has previously belittled Mr Johnson, but would she dare to move him out of the Foreign Office?
Mrs May’s election manifesto will confirm that she is pursuing what many call a hard Brexit. She says Britain will leave the single market and the customs union, while taking back control of its “borders, laws and money”.
But an election victory would also give Mrs May more space to pursue a smoother path to her objective, including a possible transition deal after Brexit in 2019 that could extend towards an election in 2022.
Moderate Eurosceptics accept this could require some unpleasant compromises, including the possibility that Britain might have to continue making EU budget payments and accepting European court rulings during the transition.
But as one senior Tory Eurosceptic put it, most of the party wants a trade deal with the EU, even if there is some pain along the way. “What matters is where we end up. We don’t want to turn our back on the world or turn Britain into North Korea.”
However, a strong mandate would ensure that Mrs May would not be beholden to those Eurosceptics, including Mr Johnson, who would be relaxed if Britain left the EU without a deal.
Equally she would not have her hands tied by pro-Europeans who are not reconciled to Brexit. “To be honest, she doesn’t want to be constrained by either side,” said one former minister who backed Remain.
Mrs May last year set out plans to retool the image of the Conservatives, saying she would prioritise families who were “just about managing”. But so far her policies for blue-collar workers have been lacklustre.
Nick Timothy, her co-chief of staff, is putting together a manifesto intended to take on knotty long-term issues, including plans to reform social care, pensions, mental health and education, with a return of selective grammar schools. New workers’ rights are promised along with tax reforms to reflect the shift to the so-called “gig economy”.
Mrs May hopes that a revival of the Scottish Tory party could derail the Scottish National party’s push for a second independence referendum, though this may turn out to be wishful thinking.
Although the SNP is unlikely to repeat its remarkable result in 2015 when it won 56 out of 59 Westminster seats, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon will portray any SNP majority on June 8 as a vindication of her referendum plan.
Mrs May’s allies want to delay any referendum until after Brexit in 2019, but admit they may be forced to concede a plebiscite before the next elections to the Scottish parliament in May 2021.
New Labour leader
If Mr Corbyn suffers the drubbing predicted by pollsters, the Labour leader will be under pressure to stand down immediately. His allies insist he will carry on regardless, at least until the autumn party conference.
Mr Corbyn wants the conference to change the party’s leadership rules, making sure that a like-minded leftwinger is on the ballot paper. The party’s strongly leftwing membership would then probably ensure a Corbynite succession.
Recent British history has shown that a party that suffers a devastating defeat (such as Labour in 1979 and the Conservatives in 1997) initially retreats to its ideological comfort zone and needs to go through a succession of leaders before eventually appointing an electable centrist (Tony Blair in 1994, David Cameron in 2005). Labour’s salvation could be some way away.
Clock ticks on Theresa May
One downside of calling a snap election is that Mrs May could find the clock is ticking on her premiership shortly after an election victory on June 8, less than a year after she first walked through the door of 10 Downing Street.
James Forsyth wrote this month in The Spectator: “It will be pointed out that she’ll be 65 by 2022 and people will ask whether she’ll really want to do another term. If this kind of talk takes hold, it can drain authority from a prime minister very quickly.”
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