Elections are a wonder in Great Britain. A contest is called and a few weeks later people vote. Almost instantly a new government is installed. Unlike in America, there is no painful, interminable, endless campaign which causes people of good sense to despair—and in extreme cases, tempts them to commit ritual seppuku.
When Prime Minister Theresa May surprised her colleagues by announcing an election for June 8, the result appeared as certain as the rising sun. May dominated Britain’s political landscape, the opposition Labor Party was in disarray, and the high tide of the Scottish Independence Party was receding. Some observers predicted May could expand a majority of 17 to well over 100, perhaps even rivaling the 144-seat margin won by Margaret Thatcher at the latter’s peak.
Now the Conservatives’ poll lead is shrinking, down from twenty-four to three percent in one survey. While the Tories still could gain a solid majority depending on how the votes break—the margin of error is wide—one seat-by-seat analysis predicts that May’s Conservatives could drop 20 seats and actually lose their majority. That would leave a “hung” parliament, where the Tories would have to bargain with another party, most likely the Liberal Democrats, to form another coalition or at least win its forbearance as a minority government. A narrow, unstable left-wing coalition also would be possible. Tory candidates already are muttering unpleasantries about the premier’s blundering.
May imagined a glorious victory, massive majority, and untrammeled authority. She deserves none of those.
In any case, stories about Prime Minister May as political behemoth would cease. She might not even survive the poll. In parliamentary systems leaders who take their parties over political cliffs typically quit. A year ago Prime Minister David Cameron, on the losing side of the popular vote to leave the European Union, voluntarily yielded power.
He did so even though his loss did not directly affect the ruling Tories. Their parliamentary majority was undiminished and the next scheduled election was still four years away. But for May to call an early election while possessing a majority, enter the race with an overwhelming poll lead against an enfeebled opposition, and then blunder the contest away would be a firing offense in British political tradition. If she tried to hang on, she might face a party challenge: there would be no better moment for disgruntled Tories to strike.
May’s best chance of electoral survival is the weakness of the opposition. The Scottish National Party cares only about winning Scotland’s independence. The Liberal Democrats would need a political miracle to win enough seats for their leader, Tim Farron, to vie for the premiership. And the Labor Party is headed by Jeremy Corbyn, an aging member of the Loony Left.
He’s a socialist true believer, not the faux variety like Sen. Bernie Sanders, who actually wants to keep capitalism so its prodigious production can be looted and redistributed. Corbyn really believes in renationalizing chunks of the economy. It’s as if the world was back in the 1920s and all manner of collectivist and statist models had yet not been tried and found wanting. He’s also a fanboy of some truly revolting international characters: Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Soviet revolutionary Leon Trotsky.
Corbyn won the Labor leadership because the decision now is made by paying members across the nation. He actually benefited from the votes of Conservatives who signed up in hopes of pushing the opposition toward political oblivion. The parliamentary Labor Party almost entirely rejected him. Indeed, there’s been talk of more moderate MPs splitting off and creating a new party harkening back to Tony Blair’s transformation of Labor into “New Labor.”
May’s strongest edge over Corbin is voters’ respective views of the two leaders. Whatever the opinion of her politics, she is seen as competent, certainly a plausible prime minister. He is not. Even SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon dismissed Corbyn as head of the British government.
May responded to her sagging poll ratings by highlighting the need for a strong prime minister to lead the negotiations with the European Union over the United Kingdom’s planned exit in two years. However, the popular edge for Brexit was thin and refighting that battle offers an uncertain path to the majority. Many traditional Tories were on the other side and might not rally to her side.
May’s travails look like a classic case of hubris laid low. By all reports May does not share decision-making. She rules the party through a tough but loyal staff and humiliates cabinet members when convenient.
Nor does she make any pretense about defending individual liberty. Instead, she sounds close to Corbyn, assailing “the cult of selfish individualism”—a curious comment from someone so determined to amass overwhelming individual political power. Using the state to socially engineer society is just fine with her, a repudiation of the more free market views of the famed Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher.
May got into political trouble because she refused to defend one of her party’s few attempts at fiscal responsibility, a proposed trim in elder benefits. She staged an almost instantaneous U-turn under fire. So much for courageous leadership. The episode sparked a song, “Liar, Liar GE 2017,” in which Adeolla Shyllon sings verses like “No, you can’t trust her” with a chorus of “She’s a liar, liar.” The song hit number two on Britain’s iTunes download list.
Moreover, May appears committed to the activist foreign policy views of her predecessor, without doing much to expand the British military. Worse, the horrid atrocity in Manchester caused in her not a single thought about how British foreign policy had helped turn the British people into targets. Yet Libya, in chaos as result of a war pushed by the Cameron government, loomed large in the terrorist’s activities.
Indeed, on this issue, at least, Corbyn proves to be the more thoughtful contender. He argued: “Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries and terrorism here at home.” Unfortunately, he’s correct.
Of course, people never like to hear that their blundering harmed others, and Tory paladins made the usual demagogic attacks against him. But policies have consequences. Indeed, the problem of foreign policy is even greater for the U.S. Wandering the world bombing, invading, and occupying other nations and supporting brutal autocrats who terrorize their peoples has created more than enough enemies hoping to do harm to Americans. There’s no justification for terrorism, as Corbyn emphasized, but it is critical to understand why it occurs.
A week to go until the UK election. After a bland start to the campaign the race has finally gotten interesting. The bookies still expect a Conservative victory, though with a smaller majority than once predicted. Even in losing Corbyn probably will be strengthened, thereby prolonging Labor’s agony, since those in the center will find it even harder to retake control of the party. The EU likely will prove even less tractable.
Moreover, there’s still the possibility of a Tory electoral disaster. It would be satisfying to see the great laid low. May imagined a glorious victory, massive majority, and untrammeled authority. She deserves none of those. Better for her story to add to the historical annals another example of the price paid for hubris. Then she would have achieved at least something positive with her time in public life.