GE2017 International 

Theresa May’s political gambles and her wounded leadership

In an election that she hoped would secure her party an even greater majority, UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan backfired when the the Tories lost their majority in the House of Commons after Thursday’s election, forcing May to form a minority government with the Democratic Unionist Party.

With confidence and the polls on her side, Theresa May called for a snap election in April, citing her desire to secure a larger majority for her party and a clear mandate from voters as her government heads towards the much anticipated and highly debated BREXIT negotiations with the European Union.

But in an election they were expected to cruise through, the Conservatives suffered a humiliating political nightmare that saw them lose their majority of 12, from having 331 seats to a cringe worthy 318 seats, a disappointing final result just short of the 326 majority mark.

May’s gambles

On top of suffering this unnecessary defeat, May is forced with continuing to govern while working with a Conservative Party that does not want her around. There are former MPs who have lost their seats as well as many within constituencies across the union now without a job, courtesy of May’s snap election.

The origin of this animosity from her own party is rooted in the reality that May had no legal obligation whatsoever to call for another election, as she was safely secured to govern through the rest of David Cameron’s second term until 2020.

While her public defense of the decision was her determination to secure a clear mandate from voters to be the right government for the negotiations, many critics are calling her move an arrogant and ego-driven goal.  This was simply not just about getting a mandate, but being officially elected by the people and reinforce her party’s majority.

This was a gamble that backfired in the most awful result since the 1974 election when Conservative PM Edward Heath’s call for snap election resulted in a hung parliament, only to have failed to secure a coalition deal with the Liberals, awarding No. 10 Downing Street to Harold Wilson of the Labour Party.

But so far for May, it seems she will remain at the helm of Prime Minister. Despite the calls for her to step down, she is determined to hold on to power and reinforce stability.

Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill

Unfortunately, the same can not be said for her own administration.

Just days after the election, joint chiefs of staff Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, who had formed a part of May’s most inner circle resigned on Saturday after shouldering much of the blame for the election outcome.  Many in the party blame Timothy and Hill for the Tories’s unpopular campaign message and marginalisation of senior voters.

The two officials have been with May for many years, and their exit from her administration only amplify a weakening and vulnerable Prime Minister.

She is now isolated with the very few officials who are still loyal to her leadership.  This will limit her freedom to maneuver and lock in deals with factions of her own party and the growing opposition.

There have also been reports that May will not be reshuffling or forming a new cabinet – another indication of a diminishing authority and power at No. 10.

New alliances

While talks are still ongoing, May announced over the weekend that she will, with the Queen’s endorsement, form a minority government with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland.

DUP Leader Arlene Foster

The DUP, a Eurosceptic, socially conservative, British nationalist party, obtained a small increase in their seat share from seven to 10.  An anti abortion and same-sex marriage party, the DUP still want Northern Ireland to remain in the United Kingdom.

The party that May has turned to in desperation backs BREXIT but are seeking a deal that will allow their border with the Republic of Ireland to remain “frictionless”.

This will conflict with a faction of the Tories who are seeking a hard BREXIT that will see the UK leave with no deal and contrasts with the soft BREXIT approach that will enable the country to remain within the single market system and allow EU citizens to remain in the UK.

May is in for a time of tough compromising between pleasing factions within her party as well as balancing the needs of her soon-to-be governing partner.

Instead of achieving a clear mandate from voters, May will head into the negotiations, scheduled to begin on June 19th, with a divided government that could contaminate a final deal.  Regardless of the outcome, the UK have to meet their exit deadline by March 2019.

If May delivers an unsatisfactory result, she could face a leadership battle within her own party, as well as face pressure from inside and outside to call for another election within the next 12 months.

But her authority within the negotiations remains uncertain.  This is Prime Minister leading without her own party holding a majority, and is relying on a new far-right partner to lead the talks.  Her power is weakened, compromised and possibly over.

If May has any wish to rescue her career, her best option is to vie for a deal that pleases the electorate. If she fails, her own party will turn on her and she will never be respected again.

A stronger opposition

To understand Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party, one must realise that he is a fighter of the far left, who is ready to destroy Theresa May after this embarrassing election.  In an television interview, Corbyn has already hinted at the possibility of another election around the corner, and after his party’s steady gains from Thursday, there is no doubt the leader of the largest opposition party will latch on to that opportunity.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn

Corbyn’s defense for another election is that contrary to the Conservative Party’s objective of getting a BREXIT mandate from the voters, the Tories and May failed to get a simple majority. Corbyn will continue rallying the call for a clear majority to head the negotiations of BREXIT and a deal that works for the middle class of the UK – a proposition Labour promised to achieve if they had won.

Attaining a net growth of 33 seats in the House of Commons, Corbyn has already been likened to Tony Blair who lead the same party to an outstanding victory in 1997.

But what makes Corbyn’s leadership even more riveting is his parallelism to that of US Senator Bernie Sanders with policies on college and university tuition, taxes and healthcare – a outspoken advocate to make the National Health Service publicly managed and made publicly accountable.

Analysts and critics wrote him off way before the election after battling through leadership contests and attempts by his own party to oust him.

But Corbyn’s victory nonetheless, originates in his straight-forward clutch on the youth, having been the only candidate to garner their attention.

For now, Theresa May’s leadership might be guaranteed, but with a hostile Conservative party, a new governing partner and a rising opposition, her time to recapture any popularity is thinning by the day.

BREXIT is her only shot. If she messes this up, her time at No. 10 will most definitely be over.





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