When she called a Snap Election on April 18, Prime Minister Theresa May called for the electorate to strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations. It was dubbed a choice between ‘strong and stable’ leadership under her Conservatives, or a “coalition of chaos” led by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.
Last night though, when the results were read out at May’s Maidenhead constituency, her demeanour was more ‘weak and wobbly’ than ‘strong and stable’. There was a brief pause after her voting figure was announced, a splatter of applause, and a painfully forced smile emanating from a leader so clearly dejected.
And rightly so.
The shock result of a hung parliament was something few predicted. When the Prime Minister called this election she did so on the basis that a Conservative majority was a foregone conclusion.
An IPSOS-Mori poll on April 26 showed her satisfaction rating sitting at a healthy 56%, compared with Corbyn’s measly 27%. But those familiar with Aesop’s The Tortoise and the Hare will know, a substantial lead should never be taken for granted.
The Conservative campaign was ruthless in its pursuit of Labour’s flaws. ‘Excruciating’ interviews with Diane Abbott were a particular focus on the Conservative Party’s Facebook page. The tone had been set. Their campaign had one aim. In the midst of rising popularity for Corbyn’s movement they had to do everything they could do delegitimise the opposition’s progression.
But to no avail. In the final week of campaigning, the same IPSOS-Mori poll that had shown the hare sitting on a healthy 56% satisfaction rating, now had her sitting at a crumbling 43%, with the tortoise sneaking up on her with 39%.
Nonetheless, despite a surge in the polls and a much stronger fight against the Conservatives than was expected, Labour never really has a chance at toppling their opponents with a majority.
As I’m writing this, Theresa May has just spoken in front of Number 10 about her proposed partnership with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party. This will take them to 328 seats in Parliament, enough to get over the 326 threshold for a majority.
A DUP source was quoted in the Guardian this morning as saying: “We want there to be a government. We have worked well with May. The alternative is intolerable. For as long as Corbyn leads Labour, we will ensure there’s a Tory PM.”
It seems, therefore that the anti-Corbyn campaign is what has formed the basis of the next five years of government.
They have formed the partnership on a promise to “build a country in which no one and no community it left behind, a country in which prosperity and opportunity are shared across this United Kingdom.” – For the many then, not the few.
The tone resembled May’s speech outside Downing Street on April 18. She said then: “At this time of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster but instead there is division.
“Division in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit, and it will cause damaging uncertainty and instability to the country.”
That was all said with the confidence that after this election the Conservatives would be sitting on a healthy majority, reversing the Westminster divide. How wrong she was.
Perhaps it will be her who will now be the centrepiece of a ‘coalition of chaos’. She will be aggressively pursued by the parties who find themselves out of the loop. Labour, the SNP, and the Lib Dems will all be sharpening their knives. The next five years look set to be plagued with uncertainty and instability, the products of a divided Westminster May so confidently promised to unite.
For now, she is the leader of her party. But it remains to be seen whether she will continue to be so. Calls for her to resign in the wake of this embarrassing result for the Tory’s have yet to be answered.
Whoever ends up commandeering the Brexit negotiations though, should know this: The ship is sinking, and the buckets being used to displace the incoming water are riddled with holes.