April 18, 2017, 6 p.m.
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Jeremy Corbyn welcomed Theresa May’s call on Tuesday for an early general election, describing it as a chance for the British people to vote for a government that works for the majority. He said he was looking forward to introducing the public to Labour’s policies and to offer “a clear and credible choice” to the country.
“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.
The Labour leader’s confident tone was echoed by some of his allies on the left but few of the party’s MPs harbour any hope that they will form the next government. Every opinion poll points to a historically poor result for Labour, with the party facing the prospect of losing dozens of seats.
A Guardian/ICM poll conducted after Ms May’s announcement on Tuesday puts Labour’s support at 25 per cent, 21 points behind the Conservatives. Two polls over the weekend also put Labour more than 20 points behind and according to Tuesday’s poll, Mr Corbyn has a negative rating of 48 per cent, in contrast to Ms May’s positive rating of 33 per cent.
Some Labour MPs have wasted no time in announcing that they will not contest June’s election, among them former home secretary Alan Johnson, long regarded as a potential caretaker leader if Mr Corbyn were to step aside. The party holds out little hope of regaining many of the seats it lost in Scotland and it faces pressure from the Liberal Democrats and Ukip as well as the Conservatives in England and Wales.
In Labour’s old industrial heartland in the north of England and the midlands, much of which voted for Brexit last year, Ukip could siphon off enough votes to hand some seats to the Conservatives. In London and other cities which voted to remain in the EU, the Liberal Democrats’ clear opposition to a hard Brexit could attract Labour voters who are disappointed by their party’s weak stance on the EU.
The Liberal Democrats, who announced that 2,500 new members joined the party within hours of Ms May’s announcement, are also confident of regaining some of the seats they lost to the Conservatives in 2015. Conservative MPs in Cornwall and Devon are especially anxious about the Liberal Democrats, as are some London MPs whose constituencies voted heavily against Brexit.
Ukip, whose only MP, Douglas Carswell, recently left the party to become an Independent, is in disarray ahead of the election, consumed by internal feuding and disillusioned with its new leader Paul Nuttall. Mr Nuttall, who was a disastrous candidate in a recent byelection in Stoke-on-Trent, lacks Nigel Farage’s appeal to traditional Conservative voters.
Mr Farage has not ruled out standing in the election and Ukip’s former donor Arron Banks hinted on Tuesday at a reconciliation with the party. He wants to challenge Mr Carswell in Clacton, either as a candidate for Ukip or under the banner of a new group he is forming, the Patriotic Alliance.