How the British Prime Minister Managed to Win and Lose at the Same Time
By VRINDA GUPTA | June 18, 2017
Much like British humor, the British election this month also presents itself as confusing and hard to laugh at. In one of the biggest turn arounds in election history, the people of the United Kingdom reduced Theresa May’s double digit lead in the polls to a literal loss of seats in the Parliament. The incumbent Conservative Prime Minister is now scrambling to gain the majority that she was offered on a silver platter last June. And what’s worse- she has no one to blame other than herself.
Before diving into the details, a word on the parliamentary system of government. Britons have one vote to elect their local member of Parliament. The political party that holds the greatest number of seats, or majority, then forms the government and appoints their leader to be the Prime Minister. Often, when there is no single party that has a 50% majority, dominating parties will collaborate with smaller ones to gain authority. This is what happens in a hung parliament. In the past, the British government has mostly been a 2-party system, the center-right Tories and the center-left Labours.
May is the internal successor to former Prime Minister David Cameron, who stepped down after his own major strategic blunder: calling a referendum for the people to decide if they would like to remain or leave the European Union (E.U.). The country shocked the entire world, and many of their own, when they decided to leave the E.U. in an extremely close vote last June. May herself voted “Remain,” but was charged with the duties for conducting Brexit negotiations. As a politician who is known for her hardline stance and commitment to the people, most believed she was perfect for the job.
Rumors for May’s quest for more power began when she declared a snap election in April despite having 3 years left for her term. She was blamed for using her popularity at the time as an opportunity to increase her party’s influence in the Parliament. It is entirely possible, and very likely, that she also knew that having a greater majority would provide her with the strong, united government she needs while discussing the terms for the British exit from the E.U. A majority would show her the people’s support, and would make her seem more powerful in front of the E.U. and the opposition. Moreover, the end of her term would be pushed to 2022, giving her ample amount of time to complete and follow through with Brexit legislation. Theresa May was forming “a government that can provide certainty.”
At the time of the announcement for the election, the Conservative Party had a narrow, but existent, 17-seat majority in the House of Commons. But opinion polls showed a double-digit lead, which meant a likely increase in majority to more than 100 seats. Leader of the Labour party Jeremy Corbyn was labelled disliked and disarrayed, and did not present himself as a threat of any kind. With these two factors in mind, it didn’t seem like Theresa May was venturing out on a limb by calling for a snap election. Yet, she lost the majority she had, and then some. The Prime Minister made the grave mistake of forgetting that she would have to run for office. With her awkward and dull appearances, and Corbyn’s surprisingly skillful campaign, polls were soon to spin. On a campaign stump, May announced her plan to ignore and possibly amend the Human Rights Act in a rather cynical attempt to deal with the widespread concern produced by terrorist attacks in the country. Just days after the two devastating attacks in Manchester and London, Corbyn brought up the police officer reductions made by Theresa May during her time as Home Secretary. It didn’t take long for the public to relate the two together, and this struck a major blow to the Conservative’s campaign.
By leading his party to its own sort of victory, Jeremy Corbyn had gone against predictions of his own colleagues. The center-left party addressed all that should be in the UK; healthcare, education and increasing taxes on wealthier people and businesses. The Labours advocated for a less harsh Brexit stance, and criticized May’s inflexible approach. Corbyn’s efforts allowed the Labour Party to gain an astonishing 29 seats in the Parliament, whereas May’s gamble cost the Conservative Party 13 seats, making the party just below a working majority. As the leader looks to join forces with the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, she must also prepare for Brexit talks with an even slimmer command than before. The government is scheduled to meet with officials from the E.U. in Brussels in less than a week, and a “soft-Brexit” looks more likely now than ever.
The British people seem to be an unpredictable bunch and it is perhaps time leaders of the Conservative party take heed and stop plotting their own demise. Theresa May did win the election, and while the incumbent will remain as such for the time being, there is talk of strong challenges both within her party and in the government. A Parliament that consists of coalitions and minority parties is quite rarely a stable one, and this will present itself as another obstacle to the Prime Minister. The youth of the country, whose high turnout boosted Corbyn’s chances, are bound to take a more active role in future deliberations. What’s left to see is how and if Theresa May will be forced to forgo her ideological approach to Brexit for a more pragmatic one.