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Britain has a hung parliament after Theresa May fails to win an overall majority. Series of campaign missteps means her future as prime minister is now at threat. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s position looks secure after exceeding expectations. Theresa May set to speak at 10.oo am this morning.
LONDON – We do not yet know whether Theresa May will jump or whether she will be pushed, but one thing is clear – her days as Britain’s Prime Minister are now surely numbered.
The hung parliament
When May first called her snap election it was widely expected that she was on course to win a landslide majority of historic proportions, with the Labour party facing possible extinction.
Like many such pieces of conventional wisdom, it turned out to be the complete opposite of the truth. Far from extending her majority as predicted, May lost it altogether. And rather than overseeing the collapse of his party, Jeremy Corbyn has just delivered the best result, in terms of vote share, the Labour party has managed since the height of the Blair era.
May mismanaged expectations
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The nature of Britain’s first past the post voting system means that the Conservatives will still end up with many more seats than Labour, despite only winning a few extra percentage points in the national vote.
But politics is about expectations and whereas Corbyn has massively exceeded expectations of his leadership, May has massively undershot hers. And while Corbyn’s position as Labour leader now looks more secure than ever, May’s position now looks completely untenable. There are three key reasons why it all went wrong for her campaign.
1. This was May’s election.
The only reason this general election happened was because May chose to call it. There was no obvious public demand for an election and no constitutional or political reason for holding one just two years after Britain last went to the polls. This was especially the case when May’s own party had passed legislation, in the Fixed Terms Parliament Act, specifically designed to prevent it.
May justified the election by saying she needed to “strengthen my hand” in Brexit negotiations. Whether or not you accept the logic that winning extra Conservative MPs in Parliament would have actually achieved that aim, this was the argument she made. By doing so she set the terms for how her success was to be measured. It is overwhelmingly clear that she has failed to meet those terms.
2. She lost her own battle of personalities
May’s second choice was to make this election a battle of personalities in which her own leadership would be compared to that of Corbyn’s.
So confident was May and her team that this was a battle she would win, that the early stages of the campaign all but eradicated the Conservative brand. At some events, ‘The Conservative Party’ was quite literally a footnote on her campaign material with “Theresa May and her team” replacing it. This, combined with the constant boasts of her “strength and stability” made the terms of this election clear from the start.
Conservative logo at heel height…. ???? pic.twitter.com/5UVM0D8gvq
— Harry Cole (@MrHarryCole) May 18, 2017
But the problem with calling a battle of personalities is that you need to be confident that you can win it. Not only did May lose the battle of personalities with Corbyn but she never even fully joined it. By refusing to debate with the Labour leader, May looked weak in a campaign that was specifically designed to highlight her strength. And far from crumbling, as most commentators expected, Corbyn’s grew as both in his media appearances and in his personal poll ratings.
3. She confirmed negative impressions of the Conservatives
It’s hard to think of two policies that could have more fully confirmed negative perceptions of the Conservative party than these. Of course all campaigns make mistakes but skilled politicians, such as her predecessor David Cameron, are able to recover from them. May was simply unable to.
4. She offered nothing to people outside her core vote
Theresa May’s policy offer was designed to soak up former UKIP voters. While that aim was at least partially vindicated, it also alienated large parts of the country that didn’t share those views.
The liberal compassionate Conservative messaging that delivered Cameron the first Tory majority government in decades was entirely absent from May’s agenda. In particular hardline message of “Brexit means Brexit” offered nothing to voters concerned with, let alone angry about, the decision to leave the EU. As a result the party is suffering some truly incredible losses in big cities and university towns.
CCHQ now fear a total clear out of Tory MPs from London is now possible. Source: “London is looking horrible”. Revenge of the Remainers.
— Tom Newton Dunn (@tnewtondunn) June 9, 2017
5. Corbyn filled the void
Although known as a hard left socialist, Corbyn’s manifesto was actually designed to appeal to exactly the sort of middle class voters that backed Labour in the Blair era.
Offers of free university tuition fees, free school meals and public sector pay rises, offered positive reasons for middle class and younger and more affluent voters to back Labour at the polls. This has led to some truly spectacular results for Labour, including gaining Southern university towns like Canterbury, which has been held by the Conservatives since 1874. May, by contrast, had no real postive policy offer other than her own claimed “strength and stability”. When both of those qualities were found out to be wanting, her campaign had nowhere else to go.
And now that we have a hung parliament, Theresa May has nowhere left to go either. Her future as Conservative leader and prime minister must surely now have reached the end of the road.