Wednesday 21 February 2018

Early insults fly as MPs clear the way for June polls

Theresa May delivers a speech to Conservative Party members to launch their election campaign in Walmsley Parish Hall, Bolton, England Picture: REUTERS/Andrew Yates
Theresa May delivers a speech to Conservative Party members to launch their election campaign in Walmsley Parish Hall, Bolton, England Picture: REUTERS/Andrew Yates

Andrew Woodcock and Arj Singh

Britain will go to the polls on June 8 after MPs cleared the way for an early general election in a House of Commons vote praised by Theresa May as "the right decision" in the national interest.

The British prime minister easily cleared the hurdle needed under the Fixed Term Parliament Act to bring the poll forward from the scheduled date of 2020. With Mrs May needing the support of 434 MPs - two thirds of all seats in the House of Commons - some 522 voted for the early election, with just 13 against.

Praising MPs for backing her during a stump speech in the north-west of England, Mrs May said: "It's about providing the strong and stable leadership this country needs to take Britain through Brexit and beyond, it's about strengthening our hand in the negotiations that lie ahead, and it's about sticking to our plan for a stronger Britain that will enable us to secure that more stable and secure future for this country and take the right long-term decisions for the future."

There was never any real doubt about Mrs May securing the backing needed to go to the country, with both Labour's Jeremy Corbyn and Liberal Democrat Tim Farron saying they welcomed the election - though Scottish National Party MPs abstained in the vote.

But there was deep division over the issues which should decide the election's outcome, with Mrs May casting the poll as an opportunity to secure "strong and stable leadership" for Britain as it forges a new position outside the EU, while Mr Corbyn said voters should take the chance to make their judgment on the Conservative record on austerity and public service cuts.

Read More: The electioneering begins as UK settles in for seven weeks of Corbyn-bashing

In Bolton, Mrs May said the country now has a "unity of purpose" and a desire for the government to "get on" with implementing Brexit and "making a success of it". While promising to run a "positive and optimistic campaign", she said the choice at the election was between her "strong and stable leadership" or a "coalition of chaos" led by Mr Corbyn.

But as she spoke Mr Corbyn explicitly ruled out any post-election coalition with the SNP, insisting that he would not do a deal with Nicola Sturgeon's party to forge a so-called "progressive alliance", as hers was not a progressive party.

Earlier, Mr Corbyn dismissed Mrs May's argument that she needs a fresh mandate to deliver Brexit, and said it was "extremely interesting" that she had chosen to call an election as the Crown Prosecution Service prepares to decide whether to press charges against a string of Tory MPs over allegations relating to 2015 general election expenses. He said Mrs May's U-turn on her previous insistence that she would not call a snap election showed she could not be trusted.

As the debate began, former chancellor George Osborne - who has recently been appointed editor of the 'London Evening Standard' - announced he would not be standing for election on June 8. But he held out the prospect of a return to the political front line, saying he was leaving Westminster politics "for now".

Meanwhile, Mr Corbyn's brother launched a blistering attack on the BBC, saying it will take every opportunity it can to prevent Mr Corbyn becoming prime minister.

Piers Corbyn accused the corporation of a series of cover ups to protect the establishment - that included making attacks on his brother - but insisted Labour could still win a "reasonable" majority.

Mr Corbyn (70), who is two years older than his brother, also claimed the pollsters were getting it wrong by failing to detect "shy Corbynistas".

Also yesterday, it emerged Mrs May is likely to take part in a question and answer session in front of a television audience before the general election after she was heavily criticised by her opponents for refusing to debate with them.

The prime minister formally ruled out taking part in televised head to head debates before the June 8 election in a BBC interview yesterday.

She said: "We won't be doing television debates. I believe in campaigns where politicians actually get out and about and meet with voters.

"That's what I have always believed in, it's what I still believe and I still do it-- as Prime Minister, as a constituency MP, I still go out and knock on doors in my constituency. That's what I believe in doing, that's what I'm going to be doing around this campaign."

However, Mrs May's aides made clear that she is not against taking part in a "long-form television programme" when she answers questions in front of a live studio audience.

Her predecessor David Cameron agreed to be questioned in front of a BBC Question Time-style audience for live television programmes during the 2015 general election.

The change of tack followed Mrs May coming under fire from the other party leaders at Prime Minister's Questions.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told her: "She says it's about leadership, yet is refusing to defend her record in television debates and it's not hard to see why."

Irish Independent

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