How Do We Solve A Problem Like Theresa?
‘In office but not in power’; so read the headline on the front page of the Sunday Telegraph yesterday, and it gives some sort of indication of the state of the United Kingdom’s leadership. On Thursday last week, the British public went to the polls for the third time in two years to vote in a snap General Election called seven weeks ago by Prime Minister Theresa May.
The last GE was held in 2015; the Conservative Party gained some seats to win a modest majority in the House of Commons and ended their coalition with the centrist Liberal Democrats. Under usual circumstances, another General Election would not have been held until 2020, thanks to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. With the triggering of Article 50 in March that set Brexit in motion, a general election in 2020 would have aligned perfectly with the ending of talks with the European Union about the UK’s exit from the bloc, and calling a snap election before those talks began could have been a relatively smart move. Note that I say could have.
May wanted to ensure a strong mandate for her Brexit talks by securing a large majority. But, as has been pointed out by many people before me, she already had a mandate. She had a majority and the British public had voted for Brexit by 52%. Aside from any practical reasons for calling a snap election – May had not been elected the PM, the Brexit thing, the fact that the House of Lords evaluate every bill put before them according to election manifestos (and no one had campaigned on the terms of Brexit) – there is another explanation: vanity. May wanted to crush any opposition and was so sure of her own popularity that she thought she would win with a landslide.
Except, of course, she didn’t. Strict regulations in the UK restrict the coverage of an election on polling day and, as such, the close of voting at 10pm is often eagerly anticipated. After a day of news outlets simply reporting which politicians had been to vote and other neutral facts, come the ten o’clock news, it’s open season. Normally the stroke of 10 is accompanied with the reporting of an exit poll, and this year the biggest was commissioned by the BBC, ITV and Sky News. And goodness, did it cause a stir.
After seven weeks of Theresa May imploring the electorate to back her and ensure strong and stable leadership (because, her reasoning ran, none of her opponents could possibly be PM), it turned out that a vast swathe of voters may have instead been listening to someone else. Someone who ran a campaign based on hope, based on an ideology far further to the left than had been attempted in recent years. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour are a very different beast to Tony Blair’s New Labour who ran the country throughout most of my childhood (between 1997 and 2010). His honest campaign seemed to have struck a chord with voters, and the exit poll was predicting that the Tories would still be the biggest party but would crucially miss a majority. It was looking like Theresa May had just gambled and lost.
In recent years, we have come to be slightly sceptical of polls. The pollsters failed to predict Brexit and Donald Trump becoming President of the USA. Admittedly they were right about the French Presidential Election, being only 0.6 points out. Weeks out from the GE, polls were predicting the Tories would secure a 40 seat majority. As time passed and May got many things wrong, they saw a shift towards Corbyn and Labour, but not on this scale. The BBC/ITV/Sky News exit poll, however, was more or less spot on. Trouble was brewing.
When the Tories failed to secure an outright majority in 2010, they went into coalition with the Lib Dems. This will not be happening again. The Liberal Democrats found themselves decimated in the 2015 election, as voters accused them of selling out in order to please their Tory overlords, particularly when it came to the thorny issue of raising university tuition fees. Although they gained a few seats back this time around, they are not the force they once were and will struggle to be so again. The SNP, the party with the third largest amount of seats, are more politically aligned with Labour, so a coalition with them was quickly written off. The Greens, with their one MP wouldn’t have been able to help in a coalition and wouldn’t have anyway considering their left-wing values. Last but certainly not least, the pro-Brexit, and consequently now irrelevant, UKIP failed to secure a single seat.
All of this left a party who rarely get much attention from the press outside of Northern Ireland. Step in the Democratic Unionist Party, or the DUP. I’ll admit that I didn’t know much about them before Thursday, with the political situation in NI rarely commented on in depth here in England. In the past few days, however, I’ve been doing my homework. I’ve read some pretty scary stuff, as someone who is a woman, who believes in science, and who has many friends whose very existence is seen as abhorrent to some members of the party.
So why would May turn to them? Allow me to speculate for a moment. As her speech the morning after the election showed, she is a woman who believes she is the best person to lead the country and she is not willing to prevaricate and take stock. There is a job to be done and she intends to do it. She seems to have unshakeable self-confidence and is determined that by hook or by crook, she will lead the country for the next five years. She believes her own hype, and seems unperturbed by the ‘Maybot’ nickname she’s been given. She can’t even properly admit to having once been a little bit naughty. No matter that her reputation is in tatters, that many have lost all respect for her. She will reach an informal agreement (otherwise known as a confidence and supply deal) with the DUP and she will forge ahead with her vision for Brexit.
Except the DUP are not playing ball. They appear to be refusing to shackled as easily as she hoped, and yesterday it was announced that the Queen’s Speech, which was due to open Parliament on the 19th June, would be delayed. Then it was announced it wouldn’t. Now they can’t confirm either way. Election promises are already being reneged on, but May has promised that the difficult issue of equality laws would not be up for debate. We can live in hope that abortion laws won’t be changed in the rest of the UK to appease the DUP.
Furthermore, May faces pressure from her backbenchers. She met with the 1922 committee, a nearly century-old group of backbenchers, earlier today in order to keep them on her side. She needs their support in order to stay in power. If she loses them, she is in serious trouble and she knows it. That meeting and her earlier cabinet meeting seems to have gone well. For now, it appears that she has allayed their fears and that Theresa May is here to stay. For how much longer remains to be seen.