UK opposition Labour leader welcomes early election call
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UK opposition Labour leader welcomes early election call

After PM Theresa May says national ballot will be held June 8, Jeremy Corbyn promises 'effective alternative' to current government

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn walks along Westminster Bridge by the Houses of Parliament in central London on March 23, 2017. (AFP Photo/Daniel Leal-Olivas)
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn walks along Westminster Bridge by the Houses of Parliament in central London on March 23, 2017. (AFP Photo/Daniel Leal-Olivas)

The head of Britain’s main opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, said Tuesday he relished the chance to challenge the Conservatives after UK Prime Minister Theresa May called for an early general election on June 8.

“I welcome the prime minister’s decision to give the British people the chance to vote for a government that will put the interests of the majority first,” Corbyn said in a statement posted to his official Facebook page.

Corbyn said the elections will allow Labour to offer Britons “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.”

Speaking to the BBC, Corbyn was undaunted when asked about his party’s poor results in recent opinion polls.

“We’re going out there to put the case, to put the case of how this country could be run. How it could be different, how we could have a much fairer society that works for all, for everyone in our community. That the case we’re putting and I’m looking forward to doing it.”

May’s surprise move came as Britain prepares for delicate negotiations on leaving the European Union.

“We need a general election and we need one now. We have at this moment a one-off chance to get this done… before the detailed talks begin,” May said, despite having previously denied that she would call an early election.

British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to the media outside 10 Downing Street in central London, April 18, 2017. (AFP Photo/Daniel Leal-Olivas)
British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to the media outside 10 Downing Street in central London, April 18, 2017. (AFP Photo/Daniel Leal-Olivas)

Speaking outside her Downing Street residence in London, May warned that “division in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit.”

She said parliament would be asked to vote Wednesday to decide on whether or not to hold an election.

The dramatic announcement comes after months of tumult in British politics following the Brexit vote.

A round of opinion polls over the weekend also showed her Conservative Party far ahead of the main opposition Labour Party. The Conservatives polled at between 38 percent and 46 percent, with Labour at 23 percent to 29 percent, according to the polls by YouGov, ComRes and Opinium.

The poll lead had prompted many senior Conservatives to call for an election, particularly as May will need a strong parliamentary majority as she seeks to negotiate Britain’s exit from the European Union.

The Conservatives currently have a working majority of just 17 from the last election in 2015 and some of their MPs have indicated they could vote against the government on key aspects of Brexit legislation.

EU leaders except May are set to hold a summit on April 29 where they will agree on a strategy for negotiating Britain’s expected departure in 2019. The negotiations themselves are not expected to start until May or June at the earliest. The European Commission has said it wants the exit talks to be concluded by October 2018 at the latest.

Britain’s next election was due to have been held in 2020 — a date enshrined in legislation according to which elections have to be held every five years in May.

But the law can be overruled if two-thirds of lawmakers in the British parliament vote in favor of early elections — something that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has previously indicated he would do.

Corbyn, a veteran socialist with support on the left of the party, won the Labour leadership in September 2015 after the party’s defeat in that year’s election.

High approval rating

Corbyn, 67, enjoys grassroots support from left-wingers but is opposed by most of the party’s more centrist lawmakers, who say that Labour under his leadership is not appealing to the middle classes.

May, in contrast, has scored consistently well in terms of personal popularity and polls have shown approval of her handling of the run-up to Brexit negotiations.

When asked who they thought would be the best prime minister, 50 percent of respondents in the YouGov poll said Theresa May and only 14 percent Corbyn.

Pro-Brexit demonstrators, calling on the British government to invoke article 50 immediately, and urging them not to hold a second referendum, shout slogans and hold placards as they protest outside the Houses of Parliament in London, September 5, 2016. (AFP/JUSTIN TALLIS)
Pro-Brexit demonstrators, calling on the British government to invoke article 50 immediately, and urging them not to hold a second referendum, shout slogans and hold placards as they protest outside the Houses of Parliament in London, September 5, 2016. (AFP/JUSTIN TALLIS)

May came to power in July 2016 after her predecessor David Cameron resigned following the shock Brexit referendum vote in June for which he had campaigned for Britain to stay in the European Union.

The 60-year-old vicar’s daughter is Britain’s second female prime minister after Margaret Thatcher and many commentators have drawn comparisons to the steely determination of the “Iron Lady.” May worked in finance, including at the Bank of England, before being elected as MP for the London commuter town of Maidenhead in 1997.

As Conservative chairwoman in 2002, she made waves by suggesting the Tories were seen as “the nasty party” and needed to overhaul their image — something that they did under Cameron’s leadership.

When the Conservatives won the 2010 general election, May was named home secretary, often seen as the hardest job in government and one that has wrecked a string of other political careers.

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