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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2400

British General Election: Theresa May’s gamble that didn’t pay off

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

Theresa May, the British Prime Minister who narrowly survived the general election on Thursday, is walking a tight rope at present, while knowing very well that knives are out for her and a challenge could arise at any time against the leader of the Conservative Party – and her premiership.

The resignation of two of her closest aides on Saturday reflects the pressure she is under from the influential figures in the party, who are ready to mount a leadership challenge, when they sense the first opportunity to do so.

The cabinet heavyweights have been demanding the removal of the pair, who has been blamed for the electoral debacle, when the damage was clear. The speed at which it came about shows how the events have weakened the prime minister within a few hours of the electoral outcome.

Without a strong political base of her own, coupled with her inability to strike a chord with the public, regardless of the political leanings, at emotional level, Mrs May is facing an uphill battle to lead the party in the aftermath of disastrous election results.

The loss of safe seats to the Labour Party and the narrow survival of the party big wigs at the election, meanwhile, did not make Mrs May’s life any easier. The fact that she entered into a pact with the DUP, a hard-line Protestant party from the Northern Ireland , in order to form a minority government, could potentially add more ingredients to the troubles brewing in Mrs May’s Conservative Party at its apex.

The DUP – Democratic Unionist Party – for instance, is an anti-Catholic, strongly right-wing, and political party from the Norther Ireland, which wants the latter to be a part of the United Kingdom rather than Ireland.

They oppose gay rights and abortion; it’s the only place in the UK where same-sex marriages are not legal. A leading figure in the party has already publicly declared that Peter would not marry Paul in the Northern Ireland! -

The Conservative Party that Mrs May leads, meanwhile, respects the gay rights and was instrumental in bringing in legislation to do so, despite the opposition from the hard core members. There are cabinet members, both men and women, who have gone public about their sexuality without exercising any restraint in the light of evolving cultural progress.

Against this backdrop, Mrs May has entered into a coalition with the DUP in order to form the government. In return, Mrs May will be forced to hand over some cabinet posts to the DUP at the expense of some of her own colleagues, which in turn could cause more rifts within the party, at a time when she can least afford to do so.

In short, Mrs May’s troubles are far from over; on the contrary, the internal wars can break out at any time in the fragile hierarchy of the party. The only hindrance is the collective fear among the party candidates to go for another general election in the next few months, while knowing very well the outcome in the current circumstances.

Mrs May and her inner circle, like the rest of us, did misread the opinion polls prior to the announcement of the election out of the blue, when she still had more than two years to continue as the prime minister; on one hand, the polls had been predicting a double digit lead over the opposition, Labour Party, consistently; on the other hand, the Labour Party seemed to be in disarray with leading figures deserting the party by saying that its leader, Jeremy Cobin, was ‘unelectable’ due to his left-leaning policies.

Having buoyed by the twin advantages, Mrs May announced the election while on a walking tour in Wales. When her party manifesto came out, however, the public opinion against some policies started to grow at an alarming rate, even among the party faithful. When they reached the danger level, then came the policy U turns, which did more harm than good in the long run.

As a result, the popularity of both the leader and party that she represented started evaporating, with the collapsing of the poll ratings proportion to the unpopularity of the policies. Adding insult to the injury, her speeches became riddled with sound bites, such as strong and stable leadership, which ultimately turned into political boomerangs to haunt her throughout the campaign.

When the two parties were running neck and neck, the twin terrorist attacks in a matter of two weeks became the last straw. Mrs May’s refusal to be engaged in public debates, meanwhile, provided her opponents with more political ammunition to portray her as a ‘weak’ leader in the absence of her special aides and loyalists.

In a few days, Mrs May have to start the negotiation with the European partners over the Brexit. The fear is that her European counterparts may try to exploit her vulnerability to make the deal harder than ever before, which could in turn destroy her political fortunes much quicker than her opponents would.

All in all, it was a mistake on Mrs May’s part to call a general election, when she had plenty of time to govern with a reasonable majority. Only thing that she can do now is crossing the chasm, while making every conceivable concession to her potential rivals within the party, in order to survive as long as feasible in the present circumstances.

- Asian Tribune -

British General Election: Theresa May’s gamble that didn’t pay off
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