Editor’s Note: Carole Walker is a political analyst who worked as a political news correspondent for the BBC. The opinions in this article belong solely to the author.
When British Prime Minister Theresa May announced her decision to call a general election, she said she was doing so in order to secure her own strong mandate, giving her the authority she needed to negotiate Britain’s departure from the EU.
Though Brexit has naturally dominated the campaign thus far, on June 8, British voters face a stark choice between two very different leaders with contrasting visions of the country’s future outside the EU and what role it should play in the world.
May and her main rival, left-wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, have both said that they will work to get a good deal with the rest of the EU.
But while May has said that no deal would be better than a bad deal, Corbyn has said that leaving without an agreement is not an option.
If Labour wins the election, Corbyn would immediately guarantee the rights of nearly 3 million EU citizens currently living in the UK. May has said that she will only do so as part of a reciprocal deal, guaranteeing the rights of more than 1 million British nationals living across the EU.
But what of their wider views of Britain’s place in the world?
The Conservative leader says Britain will be the world’s foremost champion of free trade, with a deep and special partnership with the 27 EU member states and new agreements around the world. If Brexit talks break down, one suggestion is that Britain could slash its taxes and create a Singapore-style economy.
For Corbyn, a lifelong anti-war campaigner, conflict resolution and human rights would be the priority. His manifesto calls for an end to what he calls “unilateral aggressive wars of intervention” and promises a minister for “Peace and Disarmament.”
May controversially held hands with US President Donald Trump when she visited Washington and has stressed the importance of the special relationship with the US. Corbyn says that there will be no more “pandering to an erratic Trump administration” and no more hand-holding with the US President.
The Conservatives stress that Britain will continue to play a leading role in NATO and retain a nuclear deterrent. Although Labour’s manifesto matches these commitments, critics have questioned whether the party can be trusted on defense. Corbyn has long campaigned against nuclear weapons and six years ago described NATO as a “danger to world peace.”
May has said she will stick to the target of cutting net migration to the UK to below 100,000, although previous Conservative governments have made the same promise and failed to get anywhere near that figure. She has not said how she will reduce the numbers.
Labour will not set a cap on immigration and has said it will not “scapegoat” migrants for the problems facing some communities.
Voters have a clear choice on the economy too. Labour’s manifesto sets out the biggest increase in taxes and borrowing for decades to fund investment in infrastructure and public services.
Whilst a Conservative government would aim to balance the books by 2025, Labour would borrow an extra £250 billion to spend on roads, rail, energy projects and scientific research.
If Labour were to win the election it would raise taxes on higher earners and businesses by more than £48 billion. It would nationalize the railways, scrap university tuition fees, and introduce a raft of new rights for workers
The Conservatives would reduce corporation tax to 17%, one of the lowest levels in the developed world. Labour would increase it to 26% by the end of the decade.
Here in Britain, there is much discussion of how May is trying to seize traditional Labour territory. Launching her manifesto, she promised an economy that works for ordinary working people, not just the privileged few, with the state intervening to reduce energy costs and build more affordable homes.
For decades, the main political parties have battled over the center ground of British politics.
This time voters face a real choice: There’s Theresa May, a vicar’s daughter from a middle-class background whose favorite soundbite is to promise “strong and stable leadership.”
Or they can vote for Jeremy Corbyn: a bearded left-wing radical, a lifelong socialist and anti-war campaigner who defied the odds to win the leadership of his party.
The election that was supposed to be about a single issue has instead revealed the extent to which last summer’s Brexit vote has turned British politics on its head. Party loyalties have been cast aside and many voters still define themselves on whether they voted to Remain or Leave in last year’s EU referendum.
The polls currently suggest Theresa May is on course to win a new five-year term with a much bigger majority. But after the political upsets of recent times, she will be battling for every possible vote until polling day on June 8.