Theresa May, a weakened and fragile leader
What started out as a sure thing turned into a cliff-hanger and ultimately resulted in a “hung Parliament,” where no party was able to achieve a parliamentary majority.
When British Prime Minister Theresa May stepped out on April 10 to announce a snap election, she did so proclaiming that she was seeking a strong mandate for the Brexit negotiations. It was a gutsy move, but the opposition Labour Party seemed in such disarray that the risk appeared manageable. Her Conservative Party had a comfortable lead in the polls at that time.
Then something happened on the road to the election day. Up until April, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn seemed ineffectual and his party was split by infighting. But Corbyn upped the ante and proved to be a formidable campaigner. May’s campaign on the other hand imploded. She ran an election built on her qualities as a leader, but her willingness to lead from the front came into question when she refused to show up to a televised pre-election debate.
Brexit was supposed to be the main theme of the election. But the debate quickly moved onto other themes such as austerity, corporation tax and the funding of public services.
The British PM brought this upon herself.There was no need to call an election, and she did so at her own peril. Therefore it remains to be seen for how long she can hang onto power.
Tragically the UK endured two terrible terrorist attacks in the weeks running up to the election. Normally such events play into the hands of the government of the day, because it can demonstrate leadership and give the people a sense of security. Such incidents also tend to empower conservative parties more than the left. However, this time it was different: When May put forward her track record as home secretary, it backfired again. Corbyn pointed out that the police force was cut by almost 20,000 during May’s tenure — which was not a message to make the general public feel more secure in the aftermath of terrorist incidents.
When it came down to the actual vote, May’s Conservative Party ended up losing its majority in Parliament. As of Friday afternoon, with one constituency yet to declare, the Conservatives remain the largest party with 318 seats, having lost 12 seats, and Labour with 261 seats.
In terms of percentages things look different, because the British “first past the post” system awards the seat to whoever gains the most votes in a constituency. This is very different from a proportional system. Smaller parties like to highlight the unfairness of the UK system, which is neither here nor there, because politics is about realities. And the reality is the current election result — which Westminster now needs to deal with.
May will remain prime minister and was yesterday trying to forge a government by collaborating with the Democratic Unionist Party, which won 10 seats in Northern Ireland. Even if she is able to pull it off — which looks likely — May will be a weakened and fragile leader. However, she brought this upon herself. There was no need to call an election. She did so at her own peril. Protagonists of the Conservative Party live and die by the sword. Therefore it remains to be seen how long May can hang onto power.
Markets do not like uncertainty, and the UK pound fell sharply after the polls closed. In terms of the Brexit negotiations, it was the worst possible election result. The EU needs a strong negotiating partner with a clear program. The Brexit negotiations were a nearly insurmountable task in the best of circumstances — and are now close to impossible given the hung Parliament.
• Cornelia Meyer is a business consultant, macro-economist and energy expert. She can be reached on Twitter @MeyerResources.