So there you have it.
After months and months of unequivocal denial, the Prime Minister has screeched on the brakes, slapped the car into reverse and announced a snap General Election to be held on 8th June. Not since Harold Wilson called a second General Election in 1974 have we had two General Elections in such a short space of time.
In perhaps the boldest line of her short statement this morning, the Prime Minister uttered the words “The country is coming together but Westminster is not.” Yes Prime Minister, you can just feel the unity oozing out of every pore of this country. Only last week I witnessed scores of Remain and Leave voters coming together in a beautiful embrace at my local “UNITY” street party, demonstrating just how far we have come as a country since the vote last June. When we’re not sitting round the fire, strumming guitars and singing along to Kumbaya My Lord, citizens are busily putting their differences to one side, agreeing on just what a fine thing Brexit is, whilst the politicians in Westminster bicker and whine in complete ignorance of this. The Prime Minister’s reading of the country is so insightful that not a single other soul can see what she sees!
One thing she can read, however, is an opinion poll. Particularly opinion polls that put her 20 points ahead of the ‘opposition’. Particularly opinion polls that had given the Conservatives a 100 seat majority. Particularly opinion polls that almost guarantee another five years of a May premiership. Of course, these have absolutely nothing to do with her decision to call a snap General Election. No, no. This election is in the COUNTRY’s national interest. The fact that this snap General Election is mainly in the Conservative Party’s political interests is pure, happy coincidence.
But what about Labour? Well pity the poor Labour Party press officer that had to wake Jeremy Corbyn up from his well-earned lie-in, after at least one media appearance over the Bank Holiday, to tell him the news. Corbyn was reportedly furious to learn the news as he had booked the last two weeks of May off for a cheeky trip to Venezuela, using all the time in-lieu he’d built up campaigning during the Local Elections. He’ll come to regret that run in with Richard Branson last year – there’s no way Virgin will be refunding the flights.
To be fair to Jeremy and his team, they were quicker off the mark than usual. It only took them an hour to get a statement out in response to the biggest political story since Brexit. And it only took them two hours to get him on our TV screens. One Labour MP has already announced that he is standing down and you can expect others to follow. We’ll soon see whether the party really is on the “electoral footing”, as a Labour source claimed in early April.
For Tim Farron and the Lib Dems, Christmas has come early. Cheshire Cat does not begin to cover the current state of Farron’s face, who will take the Lib Dems into the election with a very clear message on Brexit. In the words of the 80s pop singer Yazz, “The Only Way is Up” for the Lib Dems. They currently have 9 MPs and will expect to make significant gains in June. Labour and Conservative MPs in Remain-leaning seats will be looking over their shoulder as the famous Lib Dem campaign juggernaut comes over the hill. But an early word of warning – politics is as much about expectation management as anything else. If the Lib Dems can match their 2005 performance of 62 seats, that would represent an extremely good night for them.
So where does that leave the property industry. Well, you have to wonder why the Government bothered to issue the much-vaunted White Paper on Housing earlier this year, given that it may not be about to implement a single word of the policy contained within the document. In a Brexit dominated General Election campaign, housing is likely to be relegated to a lesser role, although you can expect the usual battle of the numbers to unfold with very little substance to back them up. The exception to this will be at the local level, where strategic sites, Local Plans, Neighbourhood Plans and Garden Villages are high priority for local communities and may form clear dividing lines between candidates. As ever, housing and development – particularly in the shires ‘threatened’ by greenbelt and greenfield development – is an easy win for candidates looking to steal a march on incumbent MPs.
On individual planning projects, our advice is simple. Manage your communications carefully and seek advice if your project is in a marginal constituency. Our team of consultants in London, Cambridge and Birmingham are on hand to support you if required. Give us a call on 020 3176 4161 to find out more.