Show Hide image

A flashback to all the times Theresa May said a snap election was a terrible idea because it would cause "instability"

Theresa May used to say an election would cause "instability". Now she says it's the only way to stop instability. So which is it?


From her first speech announcing her candidacy as Tory leader (and therefore prime minister), Theresa May has insisted - really, really insisted - that she did not plan to call a general election. It always seemed an odd position, as she lacked her own mandate and was stuck trying to juggle her own legislative agenda alongside the promises made by David Cameron and George Osborne. The Tories' lead in the polls also promised her an increased majority, making it easier to get legislation through the Commons.

But no - she repeatedly told the press - she would not seek an early election. Why? Because after the EU referendum, the UK needed a "period of stability". 

And why is she now calling an election? In order to "guarantee certainty and stability". 

Figure that one out if you can.

Anyway, for the record, let's take a trip down Memory Lane to appreciate how May was dead against an early election - until she wasn't. 

30 June 2016

"There should be no general election until 2020," said Theresa May when launching her Tory leadership campaign.

4 September 2016

Appearing on the BBC's flagship political show, May refused to answer Andrew Marr's suggestion that she must be "tempted" to hold an early election.

Andrew Marr: Now, we’ve talked about a possible Scottish referendum and we’ve talked about the timing of Article 50 and so on. Let me ask you about another election, which is the next general election. Because if you look at the polling - and a lot of people in your party are very excited about this – if you went to the country now you’d get a majority of something like 114 or 130. That seems a wonderful opportunity for you. Are you tempted in any way to all a snap election?

Theresa May: I think what’s important, particularly having had the referendum vote, is that we have a period of stability. So there’s a – a challenge ahead in ensuring that we make a success of coming out of the European Union. I think it’s important that we focus on that and the other reform agenda that I have for the country as we go forward. And we’ll be continuing the manifesto on which the Conservative government was elected in 2015, so I don’t think there’s a – a need for an election. I think the next election will be in 2020. 

AM: Let me make this very clear, because again it’s very important. Under current law the next election will be in 2020. No ifs, no buts, no snap elections, no changing the law. Under you, is that absolutely certain, that we’re not going to see an election before 2020? 

TM: I – I – 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. 

1 October 2016

In an interview with the Sunday Times, May reiterated her belief that an election would cause "instability".


2 October 2016

A month later, Andrew Marr had another go at getting her to open up, but still no dice.

Andrew Marr: It just seems to me in terms of the brutal politics, there are lots of opposition MPs who for their own reason might want to vote this down and there are a lot of Tories on the so called soft Brexit argument who might want to vote it down. You may well not be able to get this through, and if you can’t, isn’t that the trigger for another General Election? I know you’ve been through this, we’ve been talking about this before.

Theresa May: Well, Andrew, let’s just look – as I’ve just said, when parliament voted for a referendum on staying in the European Union, parliament voted six to one to say to the British people this is your choice. We’re going to ask you this question. You give us your voice. The British people have determined that we will leave the European Union and I think anybody who’s looking at this Repeal Bill, which will repeal the European Communities Act, will make us that independent sovereign nation once again, able to determine our own laws, anybody looking at that should remember that this is about delivering for the British people. And it’s – to me it’s not just about leaving the EU, it’s about that essential question of the trust that people can have in their politicians. The people have spoken, we will deliver on that.

7 March 2017

"It's not going to happen. It's not something she plans to do or wishes to do," says the prime minister's spokesman, after William Hague writes a column suggesting a snap election will give May a mandate for Brexit negotiations. 

30 March 2017

"There isn’t going to be one. It isn’t going to happen. There is not going to be a general election," said the prime minister's spokesman

18 April 2017

"Since I became Prime Minister I have said there should be no election until 2020 but now I have concluded that the only way to guarantee certainty and stability for the years ahead is to hold this election and seek your support for the decisions I must take," said Theresa May this morning. 

What - cough 20 point poll lead cough - could possibly have changed her mind?

I'm a mole, innit.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Technology can change the world – provided we have a measure of democracy, too

You could say we need a technological revolution for the many, not the few. 

Over the last five decades, the American Consumer Technology Association’s annual jamboree has grown to become the world’s largest tech show: attracting over 190,000 visitors and 4000 companies, with 7,460 reporters filing 59,969 reports over the course of four days in Las Vegas. In the process, it has achieved an almost mythical status – from unveiling the first-ever home VCR (Philips 1970) to Bill Gates’ resignation from Microsoft in 2006, and has included cameo appearances by the likes of Jay-Z and Barack Obama.

As a fully qualified geek (Electrical Engineering degree, 20 years in tech – before it was cool) and the shadow minister for Industrial Strategy Science and Innovation, I couldn’t resist seizing the opportunity to venture to Las Vegas while on a family holiday to the US’ west coast; hoping, against all hope, to see the progressive future of a technology-enabled, more equal world.

If only.

But I did emerge with a renewed conviction that technology can solve our problems – if we use it to do so.

In some ways, the most remarkable thing about the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was the way it demonstrated how technology has taken over our entire world. CES was a car show in the middle of a health show, which happened to be around the corner from a home show, which was adjacent to a sports show that was next to an entertainment show. Just about every sector was represented.

Nissan had a huge stand for their new autonomous vehicle showcasing the ‘Brain-Vehicle Interface’, as did Philips for their new sleep enhancing devices, and Huawei for their connected home. In 2018, technology can be used as an enabling platform to aid just about everything. And in a world where near enough everything is politicised, technology is very political.

But this was not evident from CES: not from the stands, neither the keynotes, nor the participants. There were few speakers from civic society nor governments, and those politicians who attended – such as Donald Trump’s Transportation Secretary, Elaine Chao – talked only of their ‘excitement’ at the sunlit uplands technology could guide us to. The show existed in its own, largely self-sufficient world. While Ford created an entire street to show off its autonomous cars, there was no reference to who would pay for the road, pavements, lamp-posts and guttering if only robots worked.

And as a politician rather than an engineer, it is the societal impact that matters most to me. One realisation brought about by my visit is that I have greatly under-estimated the consequences of driverless vehicles: communications, parking, urban layout, and public transport are all likely to be deeply impacted. The automobile industry is working to position cars as your personal moving office-cum-front room-cum-hotel-cum-lecture theatre; where you can work, maintain personal and social relationships, unwind and learn – all while going from A to B. How will crowded, under-funded public transport compete?

At the show, Nissan launched its Brain-to-Vehicle technology, which reads the driver’s brainwaves to determine when the car’s intelligence should intervene. Although I'm personally unsure about the inclusion of brain surveillance in the driving experience, it may well be the next logical step as we increasingly give up our data in return for ‘free’ services. Certainly the anthropologists at Nissan argued that this was the very definition of assisted artificial intelligence.

Fortunately, autonomous vehicles are not the only way to get around. Improvements in battery technology mean that – between electric scooters capable of folding away into airplane carry on, and electric bikes with the power of motorcycles – personal mobility has become a market in its own right.

Personal health and sport were also big themes at the event. Philips has brought back the night cap, which not only looks far more fetching than the Victorian original, but is now also capable of lulling you gently into a slumber before monitoring the quality of your sleep. Orcam’s discrete camera-glasses for the visually impaired can read text and recognise people, whilst L’Oréal’s UV Sense is a sensor small enough to be worn comfortably on your fingernail that detects ultraviolet exposure.

One aspect of the show that has remained largely unchanged is its demographics. Whilst the glossy adverts on the walls depict women and BME people using technology, those actually designing it were, with a few exceptions, male and largely white. As always, there were no queues for the women’s loos and while there were not any ‘F1 girls’, the gender balance was improved largely by attractive women, who were not engineers, being employed to ‘explain’ technological advances.

Weeks later, the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos was also dominated by technology, which the Prime Minister used as a fig leaf to cover the absence of vision for Brexit. Lacking in both the CES and Davos, was any sense that the interests of the many had any significant stake in what was going on. We need a Labour government to help change that.

Chi Onwurah is the Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, and the shadow minister for industrial strategy.