General election 2017: Lib Dem MP to ‘retire’

John Pugh Image caption The MP for Southport said he had planned to retire in May. One of only nine current Liberal Democrat MPs has chosen to step down ahead of June’s general election.

John Pugh, MP for Southport, said he planned to retire next month, but “did not bank on the prime minister’s opportunism” in calling an election.

He said he did not want to work through “the nightmare chaos of Brexit” in the next parliament.

The local constituency party will now choose a new candidate from an all-woman shortlist.

Mr Pugh said in a statement: “I was going to announce my retirement from Westminster politics in my own time this May after what will be successful local elections.”

He said he planned to continue in local politics, but felt it was “the right time to step down and begin a new chapter in my life”.

Mr Pugh joins a number of MPs who have ruled out standing in the election on 8 June.

Former Chancellor George Osborne, who is also the editor of the Evening Standard, will not run again to be MP for Tatton.

He announced his plans in the newspaper, adding that he will be “fighting for that Britain I love from the editor’s chair”.

A number of Labour MPs have also confirmed they will not run following Tuesday’s surprise announcement.

On Wednesday morning, both Andrew Smith, MP for Oxford East, and Iain Wright, MP for Hartlepool, confirmed they would not be running for re-election.

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General election 2017: SNP MPs to abstain in Commons vote

Nicola Sturgeon and SNP MPs Image caption First Minister Nicola Sturgeon held an event with the SNP’s MPs outside Westminster ahead of the vote SNP MPs will abstain in the House of Commons vote on whether there should be a snap general election, the party’s leader at Westminster has confirmed.

Angus Robertson said his party believed in fixed-term parliaments, but would not stand in the way of an early election.

The prime minister’s plan to hold an election on 8 June is expected to be authorised by MPs later.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have already said they support the move.

The next general election had been due to be held in 2020, but the Fixed Term Parliaments Act allows for one to be held earlier if two-thirds of MPs are in favour.

Theresa May has argued that a snap general election will help the UK make a success of Brexit and provide long-term certainty.

Opposition parties have highlighted Mrs May’s U-turn after she had previously insisted she would not be calling an early poll.

But the prime minister told the BBC she had “reluctantly” changed her mind on the issue in recent weeks.

Asking the public to trust her, she said a new mandate would give her the “strongest hand” in talks and make it hard for people to “frustrate” EU exit.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Theresa May has urged Scottish voters to use the election to reject the SNP’s calls for an independence referendum

Speaking on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme, Mr Robertson accused the prime minister of putting her party before her country by holding a general election just two years after the last one.

He added: “We are supporters of the Fixed Term Parliament Act, and that means that parliaments should go their term.

“But we are not going to stand in the way of the election because the election is going to happen.

“The Labour Party is going to vote with the Tories. We are not going to vote with the Tories, we are not going to make life easy for them, we are here to hold them to account.”

The decision to abstain in the Commons vote was made at a meeting of SNP MPs on Tuesday evening.

Mr Robertson insisted he “absolutely” relished the prospect of an election, and said the SNP would be contesting every seat in Scotland with the intention of winning them.

He said the vote “will be an opportunity for us in Scotland to at least get some insurance against the worst excesses of a hard-right Brexit, which is what the UK government is steering towards”.

Mr Robertson also confirmed that the SNP winning a majority of seats in Scotland would not be enough for the country to become independent – with a referendum needed to decide the issue.

But he would not confirm whether or not the party’s manifesto would have a commitment to an independent Scotland seeking EU membership – which is the SNP’s current policy.

‘Crumble to dust’

First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon joined Mr Robertson and the party’s other MPs outside Westminster ahead of the Commons vote.

She told journalists that the UK government’s arguments against holding a second independence referendum would “crumble to dust” if the SNP won the election in Scotland.

The SNP won 56 of the country’s 59 seats in 2015 – making it the third largest party in the Commons – with the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats winning one each.

But two MPs – Michelle Thomson and Natalie McGarry – are currently suspended by the party.

Ms McGarry has been charged with fraud offences relating to a potential financial discrepancy in the accounts of the Women for Independence group, while Mrs Thomson has been reported to prosecutors after a police investigation into allegations of mortgage fraud.

The SNP’s National Executive Committee will meet on Saturday to discuss whether Ms McGarry and Mrs Thomson would be able to put themselves forward as potential candidates in the election.

Image copyright PA Image caption The prime minister is expected to win the backing of the required two-thirds of MPs

Recent opinion polls have suggested that the SNP continues to hold a commanding lead over its rivals in Scotland, with the Conservatives in second place ahead of Labour.

Writing in the Scotsman newspaper on Wednesday morning, the prime minister said that backing the Scottish Conservatives in the election would send a clear message of opposition to SNP calls for a second independence referendum.

And she insisted that holding an election now will provide the UK with “five years of strong and stable leadership to see us through the (Brexit) negotiations and the period thereafter”.

Mrs May added: “A vote for the Scottish Conservatives in June will do two things. It will send a clear message of opposition to the SNP’s divisive plans for a second independence referendum, and it will strengthen my hand as I negotiate on behalf of the whole United Kingdom with the EU.

“In Scotland, only Ruth Davidson and her Scottish Conservative colleagues are able to stand up for our United Kingdom and provide a strong voice against the SNP.

“And only a strong Conservative Government at Westminster can deliver a Brexit that works for the whole UK.”

‘Historic choice’

Meanwhile, Scottish Secretary David Mundell insisted it was “absolutely” not hypocritical of the UK government to call a snap general election while denying SNP calls for a second referendum on independence.

He said the general election would be over in six weeks, before Brexit negotiations begin, while Ms Sturgeon wanted the independence referendum campaign to be held while the EU negotiations were ongoing.

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said the upcoming general election would give voters a “significant and historic choice”.

She said: “At this election, the choice again will be clear: a Tory Party intent on a hard and damaging Brexit; or a Labour Party that will oppose a second independence referendum and fight for a better future for everybody.

“We will work tirelessly to elect Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister and deliver a Labour government.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie also said his party was “relishing the prospect of this election”.

He stated: “It is a chance to change the direction of the whole of the UK. Our optimistic agenda is pro-UK, pro-EU and progressive. We stand with the majority opinion in this country.”

And Scottish Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie urged Scottish voters to use the election to “reassert our choice for a fairer and more equal society.”

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General election 2017: Ken Clarke to stand again

Ken Clarke Former Conservative chancellor Ken Clarke is to stand again to be an MP in the 8 June general election.

Mr Clarke, who has represented Rushcliffe in Nottinghamshire since 1970, had suggested he would step down in 2020 after 50 years as an MP.

But with an early poll confirmed by MPs, his office confirmed the 76-year-old would stand again.

Mr Clarke, a staunch Remain supporter, is Father of the House – an honour bestowed on the longest-serving MP.

Speaking in June 2016 to China Daily, Mr Clarke said: “I have told the officers of my constituency association that once we have finished the boundary changes they had better start choosing my successor.

“I will not stand again. This is my last Parliament.”

However, a general election will take place sooner than expected after MPs gave the go-ahead to Theresa May’s request for an early poll.

And Mr Clarke’s office confirmed: “He’s putting himself forward to be the Conservative candidate for Rushcliffe in June.”

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General election 2017: Corbyn and May clash over ‘trust’

Media playback is unsupported on your deviceMedia captionPrime Minister Theresa May tells Today opposition parties were “frustrating” Brexit process Jeremy Corbyn has said the public “cannot trust” Theresa May as the two clashed over plans for a snap election.

The Labour leader told MPs the Tories had “broken promises” on the NHS and the deficit and “starved” schools of money while cutting tax for the rich.

The prime minister said Labour would “bankrupt” the UK and only the Tories could ensure a “strong economy and defence” and make a success of Brexit.

MPs are debating Mrs May’s call for an 8 June election.

Opening the debate, Mrs May said a snap general election was “in our country’s national interest” and said there should be unity, not division, at Westminster over Brexit.

She urged MPs to do the “right and responsible thing” and back an early poll.

Mr Corbyn cited the PM’s previous insistence there would be no general election before 2020, asking: “How can any voter trust what the prime minister says?”

And the SNP’s Angus Robertson attacked her refusal to take part in TV debates, saying her stance was “unsustainable”.

The early poll is expected to secure the support it requires to go ahead following Mrs May’s surprise announcement on Tuesday. The next general election had been expected in 2020, but the Fixed Term Parliaments Act allows for one to be held earlier if two-thirds of MPs back the move.

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Corbyn said he welcomed the prospect of an election but suggested that Mrs May’s U-turn on the issue and her record in government over the past seven years proved she could not be trusted.

Challenging the prime minister to defend her record by taking part in TV debates – which she has so far refused to do – Mr Corbyn said the Conservatives’ record was one of falling wages, rising debt, increasing child poverty and an NHS that was in a “year-round crisis”.

“Austerity has failed,” he told MPs. “Over the last seven years, the Tories have broken every promise on living standards,, the deficit, debt, the health service and schools funding. Why should anyone believe a word they say over the next seven weeks?”

In response, Mrs May said she was “very proud” of her government’s achievements, including delivering record levels of employment and spending more money on the health service than ever before, telling MPs the country faced a “real choice” on 8 June.

“We will be fighting for every vote. While the right honourable gentleman (Mr Corbyn) would bankrupt our economy, weaken our defences and is simply not fit to lead.”

‘Question of trust’

Earlier, Mrs May, who has repeatedly ruled out an early election since becoming PM in July, told BBC Radio 4’s Today that “no politician wanted to hold an election for the sake of it” and there were risks involved in doing so.

But she insisted that she trusted the British public “and I am asking them to put their trust in me”.

Media playback is unsupported on your deviceMedia captionSir Vince Cable: Liberal Democrats won’t strike a deal with Labour

She said she believed, more than ever, that “strong leadership” was required to secure a successful outcome to the two-year process of leaving the EU and taking the UK in a new direction afterwards, both at home and abroad.

“I genuinely came to this decision reluctantly having looked at the circumstances and having looked ahead at the process of negotiation. I want this country to be able to play the strongest hand possible in those negotiations and be in a position to get the best possible deal.

“That is in our long-term interest. That is what this is about.”

The election would not be a re-run of last year’s referendum, she argued, saying there could be no “turning back” on that decision but if she was elected, it would be a vote of confidence in her government’s central goals of gaining “control” of the UK’s borders, laws and money.

She also ruled out taking part in TV debates with Jeremy Corbyn and her other political opponents, saying she believed elections were all about “getting out and about and meeting voters” and, in her words, “knocking on doors”.

The BBC’s assistant political editor Norman Smith said while there were other huge issues such as the future of the NHS, social care and school reforms, Brexit was “bigger than anything else” and the prime minister wanted to portray herself as the “Brexit candidate”.

What issues are important to you in this election? Email haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk with your views.

Please include a contact number if you are willing to speak to a BBC journalist.

Former Conservative Justice Secretary and leading Leave campaigner Michael Gove said Mrs May was a “highly ethical” politician and would only be doing something that she thought was in the national interest, telling the BBC she had “played a blinder” on Brexit so far.

Opposition MPs have accused Mrs May of a blatant U-turn and said she is “running scared” by refusing to take part in at least one TV debate during the campaign, as David Cameron did in 2015.

AnalysisImage copyright Reuters By BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg

Senior government sources point to a specific factor that changed the prime minister’s calculation on an early election.

The end of the likely tortuous Article 50 negotiations is a hard deadline set for March 2019.

Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, that’s when the Tories would be starting to prepare for a general election the following year, with what one cabinet minister described as certain “political needs”.

In other words, the government would be exposed to hardball from the EU because ministers would be desperate to avoid accepting anything that would be politically unpopular, or hold the Brexit process up, at the start of a crucial election cycle.

Ministers say that’s the central reason for Mrs May’s change of heart because “if there was an election in three years, we’d be up against the clock”.

Read Laura’s latest blog in full

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said Labour MPs would support Wednesday’s vote to trigger an election, which was “an opportunity for removing a Tory government and replacing it with a Labour government”.

He said the government had a mandate for Brexit, but not for the “hard” Brexit currently pursued and Labour wanted the government to negotiate with the EU for tariff-free access to the single market.

But the election, he said, was really about the government seeing “the economy is going to turn, we are seeing inflation increasing, wages stagnate and people in heavy debt. They know… they’ll be deeply unpopular”.

Labour’s election manifesto, he added, would set out plans for a pay ratio – to control pay difference from the top to bottom earners in a company. Labour also wanted “the corporations and the rich to pay their share” in fair taxation to afford public services.

A number of Labour MPs, including former home secretary Alan Johnson, have said they will not be contesting the election while backbencher John Woodcock, a long-term critic of Mr Corbyn, said there was still time for him to quit ahead of the poll, “rather than lead Labour to defeat”.

Image caption Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has challenged the prime minister over TV debates Image copyright EPA Image caption While the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon said she backed a “progressive alliance” to stop a Tory government

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said only her party stood in the way of an “increasingly hard line Tory government”.

Campaigning in south-west London, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron appealed to people who opposed an “extreme version of Brexit” to back his party, saying this was the only “plausible route” to prevent a Conservative majority.

UKIP said the election was “highly cynical” but it was “excited” to put forward its vision for Brexit while the Green Party said an alternative approach to austerity and social cuts was needed.

Mrs May’s announcement sparked a surge in applications to register to vote. Some 150,000 applications were made on Tuesday, the biggest total recorded for a single day since the 2016 referendum campaign.

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General election campaigning begins as MPs back June poll

Media playback is unsupported on your deviceMedia captionThe moment when the vote is announced for an early general election. Campaigning is under way after the House of Commons backed Theresa May’s call for a general election on 8 June.

MPs voted by 522 votes to 13 – with Labour and Lib Dem helping secure the two-thirds majority needed to bring forward the election from 2020.

The PM has argued a fresh mandate would strengthen her hand in Brexit talks and provide certainty for the future.

Jeremy Corbyn said a Labour government would stop Mrs May from using Brexit to make the UK an “offshore tax haven”.

Speaking in Croydon on his first campaign stop, the Labour leader said if elected, he would raise the minimum wage to £10 an hour and increase spending on the NHS, social care and council housing.

The BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg said sources suggested Mr Corbyn wanted to frame the election as being about the delivery of public services, and the kind of economy the UK will have after Brexit.

She said she also understood that Mr Corbyn had ruled out “progressive alliances” with other parties, such as the Greens, as a way of thwarting Conservative attempts to increase their majority.

In other election developments:

The PM says she will not take part in TV leaders’ debates George Osborne is to quit as an MP but Ken Clarke plans to stand againLabour suggests people earning £70,000 a year could be asked to pay more tax Scottish party leaders make their opening pitchesThe Democratic and Ulster Unionist Parties are to hold talks about a pact

The next general election had been expected in 2020, but the Fixed Term Parliaments Act allows for one to be held earlier if it has the support of two-thirds of MPs. The Commons backed holding a poll in 50 days time by a majority of 509.

Defending the move, Mrs May told MPs there was a “window of opportunity” to hold a poll before Brexit negotiations began in earnest in June and that the country needed “strong leadership” to make a success of the process.

Media playback is unsupported on your deviceMedia captionHow the decision to hold a general election on 8 June unfolded

The prime minister, who will make her first campaign stop in the north-west of England later, is hoping to significantly boost her current Commons majority of 17 to increase her authority, ahead of 18 months of talks which will determine the manner of the UK’s exit from the EU.

Mrs May, who became PM last July after the EU referendum, told MPs that it would wrong for the UK to find itself reaching the most “difficult and sensitive” phase of Brexit negotiations in late 2018 and early 2019 at a time when a general election was “looming on the horizon”.

During a special debate in the Commons, she said it was the “right and responsible” thing to do hold the election now in order to provide “five years of stability and certainty” and help the UK prepare for life outside the EU.

Mr Corbyn backed the move but suggested Mrs May’s word could no longer be trusted after she reversed her previous position on the issue. The SNP accused Mrs May of political opportunism but abstained in Wednesday’s vote.

Nine Labour MPs opposed the snap election as did three independents and the SDLP’s Alasdair McDonnell.

Although Parliament will not be officially dissolved until early May, campaigning is already under way – with Lib Dem leader Tim Farron addressing a rally of activists in south-west London earlier on Wednesday.

Media playback is unsupported on your deviceMedia captionJeremy Corbyn says Theresa May “is refusing to defend her record in TV debates and it’s not hard to see why”. Media playback is unsupported on your deviceMedia captionPrime Minister Theresa May tells Today she is not seeking an election “blank cheque”

Mrs May has said she will not take part in any TV leaders’ debates, leading to criticism from Mr Corbyn and other party leaders that she is “running scared”.

As the Commons backed the General Election – which will be held just over two years after the Conservatives won a narrow victory in the May 2015 poll – senior politicians from all parties have been clarifying their intentions.

Former Conservative chancellor George Osborne said he would not be standing again in Tatton in order to concentrate on his job as editor of the Evening Standard, although he hinted at a possible return to frontline politics in the future.

But former Lib Dem deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has said he will stand in Sheffield Hallam, while it has been reported that Conservative grandee Ken Clarke will again contest Rushcliffe, a seat he has represented since 1970. He had previously said he intended to stand down in 2020.

Meanwhile, Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee has confirmed that existing MPs who wish to stand again will be automatically selected and that any unsuccessful candidates from 2015 will be asked to put themselves forward.

The NEC will directly fill any vacancies in England triggered by retirements while the parties in Scotland and Wales will handle their own procedures.

In a statement, it said it regretted that local parties in England would not be able to select candidates as normal but it would be “simply impossible to hold trigger ballots, selection hustings and meetings in the 631 Parliamentary constituencies” before the 11 May deadline for nominations.

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Theresa May says no to general election TV debates

Media playback is unsupported on your deviceMedia captionLeaders’ debate – the 2015 highlights Theresa May will not take part in TV debates ahead of the planned general election, she has told the BBC.

The prime minister told BBC Radio 4’s Today she preferred “to get out and about and meet voters”.

ITV has become the first broadcaster to confirm a debate ahead of the poll on 8 June, announced by Mrs May on Tuesday.

Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn accused the PM of “dodging” a head-to-head showdown and the Lib Dems urged broadcasters to “empty chair” her.

Mrs May has promised a “strong and stable leadership” if she wins. MPs are expected to back the early election in a vote on Wednesday.

A Number 10 source has told the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg that the prime minister will not be changing her position, despite ITV’s announcement.

Mr Corbyn said the PM’s stance was “rather strange”, adding: “I say to Theresa May, who said this election was about leadership, Come on and show some.’

“Let’s have the debates. It’s what democracy needs and what the British people deserve.”

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron added: “The prime minister’s attempt to dodge scrutiny shows how she holds the public in contempt.

“The British people deserve to see their potential leaders talking about the future of our country.”

So are any debates scheduled to go ahead?

ITV is the first broadcaster to confirm a debate. No details have been released about the format or the date, but Julie Etchingham is expected to be the host, as she did in 2015.

A BBC spokesman said it was too early to say whether the broadcaster would put in a bid to stage a debate but its head of newsgathering, Jonathan Munro, told the Daily Telegraph that he did “not want to get in a position where any party leader stops us doing a programme that we think is in the public interest”.

David Dimbleby, who hosted the BBC leaders’ debates in both 2010 and 2015, said a refusal to take part in TV showdowns with her rivals could be “rather perilous” for Mrs May.

“I don’t think other parties will refuse to take part in debates, and I wonder whether Number 10 will stick with that, because it may look a bit odd if other parties are facing audiences and making their case,” he said.

Why are TV debates important?

They are a chance to hear, in a prime-time TV slot, what party leaders offer and how robustly they can defend their ideas.

Political leaders’ TV debates featured in the last two general elections, in 2010 and 2015.

And they took different forms at each – in terms of the line-up, questioning, topics and how they debated. A set of rules were thrashed out between party and broadcaster beforehand.

“I agree with Nick” was the almost gameshow-like, standout legacy of the first 2010 encounter.

It saw then Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Tory leader David Cameron find common ground with Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg – who went on to be deputy PM in the coalition government.

It was the first of three 90-minute debates on ITV, Sky and the BBC. Separate leaders’ debates were held in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Do they make a difference?

Viewer ratings in 2010 varied – from a peak of 10.3m watching the first debate to 4m for the second.

The format changed in 2015 to provide a more open mix – seven leaders taking part in one debate; a second programme of just opposition chiefs; Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish debates.

There were also specials with Mr Cameron, then Labour leader Ed Miliband, another with the addition of Mr Clegg. But they did not debate ‘head-to-head’.

Did all those permutations change anything? Again millions watched and research shortly after the 2015 election found 38% of voters were “influenced” – more than general TV news coverage or party political broadcasts.

Later on, researchers found they played a “crucially important civic role” in reaching those often reluctant younger or first-time voters and piquing interest.

That may be positive for democracy, but it is clearly not perceived as decisive, given Theresa May’s current no-debate stance.

Her refusal may be seen by some “a bit chicken”, as the BBC’s Media Editor Amol Rajan observes here.

But, he says, why would she risk it, and give her opponents a formal platform at the same time?

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General election 2017: No! ‘Larry the cat is not dead’

Screen grab of tweet by @FakeNewsGen Image copyright Twitter/@FakeNewsGen Social media users in the UK are reacting to Prime Minister Theresa May’s surprise announcement of a snap general election with memes – naturally.

The election was scheduled to be held in 2020 but has now been called for 8 June, pending a parliamentary vote.

Some said Mrs May had “deceived the public” as she previously pledged she would not call for an early general election, while others focused their attention on the announcement’s effect on the British pound.

And speculation in the build-up to the announcement was rife online, with one saying the announcement could possibly have been about the death of Larry the cat. No!

A widely shared image quoted Mrs May saying last year that there would be no general election until 2020.

Image copyright Twitter/@ThomasPride Image copyright Twitter/@ThatTimWalker

Explaining her decision, Mrs May said that Westminster had become divided following the EU referendum, which could “cause damaging uncertainty and instability to the country”.

In a tweet, Fake News Generator showed an image of Mrs May with an altered BBC “Breaking News” strapline that reads: “I’m just four toddlers in a trenchcoat.”

One user added: “What was the point in running for PM, after Brexit, and call a General Election a few months after. No vote in confidence for Theresa May.”

While Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn welcomed the PM’s decision, online bookmaker Paddy Power tweeted: “Jeremy Corbyn is in for a shock when he wakes up in 45 minutes.”

Another Twitter user commented: “Labour has no chance of being voted in whilst that clown is Labour leader.”

Others focused their attention on finance, with one comparing Family Guy’s Peter Griffin falling down the stairs to the “pound reacting to anything Theresa May says”.

Image copyright Twitter/@fastFT Image copyright Twitter/@ConMend

The surprise announcement has also led to reaction from students and journalists alike. One student in Cambridge shared a meme of an angry Spongebob Squarepants, captioned: “When Theresa May announces a snap election two hours before your Politics mock.”

Another tweeted a gif of cats typing away furiously, illustrating “every journalist in the UK right now”.

And in the build-up to the announcement, several speculated the many possibilities – some grim and others humorous – of what Mrs May would say.

Image copyright Twitter/@Kevin_Maguire Image copyright Twitter/@mrmitchell78

By the UGC and Social News team

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