“This is not peace. It’s an armistice of twenty years.”
Those were the words of Ferdinand Foch is response to the Treaty of Versailles, signed in 1919, and twenty years later, France and Germany were once again at war. After the results of the British general election this year, they words may not be relevant only to historians. With the Conservatives failing to win a majority in the British general election, instead having to rely on the support of the Democratic Unionist Party to form a majority in the House of Commons, the question of Northern Ireland will soon bubble up again. The idea that the country/region/area called Northern Ireland is now at relative peace is predicated on the continuing existence of and adherence to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
The problem? The two parties that initiated that agreement have been wiped out at Westminster, and have been replaced by two parties that would like to see it gone.
It’s been commonplace in recent weeks to say that the Conservative Party called a snap election because of their position in the polls, and they were trying to take advantage of Labour weakness. This is an easy tale to tell, and is particularly popular among Jeremy Corbyn’s true believers, for whom it adds to the image of the Conservative Party as ruthless, heartless, and so on.
The thing is, it doesn’t actually make much sense.
It was known in advance that this year would see three, possibly four major European elections. It was not expected that the upcoming British general election would be among them. After all, they went to the polls two years ago and delivered a majority Conservative government, and then again last year to decide whether or not to leave the European Union, the result of which forced the Conservatives to change their leader and cabinet. Theresa May, playing the role of ‘last man standing’, promised upon her election to the leadership by Conservative MPs that she would not go to the polls again. Overandover, she promised that she would not have another election, because Britain needed stability.
Then, in April, she called a snap poll, set for early June. Officially, it’s also for stability. Given that directly contradicts her stated reason for not going to an election, it seems more likely that it has to do with the investigation into Conservative Party expenditure during the 2015 election, which may well have necessitated multiple by-elections. Losing those by-elections would have made a slim majority even slimmer, and make her government even more susceptible to backbenchers crossing the floor. So, here we are. (As an aside, it also seems likely the Conservatives really, really wanted to wait until the new electoral boundaries were put in the place next year before having an election, which reduces the Commons by 50 seats. Most of the seats being taken away are in Labour areas.)