THERESA MAY'S JUNE 8TH GENERAL ELECTION DEBACLE
What a difference two months make in the new weak and wobbly British political landscape!
Two months ago we had the usual county council local elections occurring with some of George Osborne’s new “Metro” mayoral elections. Theresa May and the Government was regularly reassuring people that there was not going to be any General Election until 2020.
We are told that Theresa May then, on a walking holiday with her husband in Wales, decided that she was going to call a General Election.
Certainly in terms of the strategic and logistical background it does generally seem to have been an ill-considered and whimsical decision. One thing that we do know about May is that she does not consult widely. She only talks candidly to an inner circle of loyalists who are said to number no more than eight, including her husband and Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill West.
It has been leaked that nobody in the Cabinet was consulted about the decision and they were simply presented with a fait accompli that the decision had been made and that they were going for it. The same appears to be true about the disastrous manifesto and her further poor decision not to take part in any head-on TV debates with Corbyn.
The result is that her reputation has gone from Machiavellian Mastermind to Blithering Blunderer within the space of a few weeks!
Jeremy Corbyn on the other hand, to listen to journalist reports, has gone from Unelectable Loony Lefty to Populist Pied Piper in the same period!
Ignoring the hype what can sensibly be identified as the elements of May’s poor decision-making!
Politicians often think that they are the masters of electional planning. It is however true that whilst they have a lot of experience of the tactics of electioneering, they may not be the best judges of strategy and what needs to be considered at a strategic level.
Two startling examples of Mrs May’s failure to think through the strategy is that, if she had merely had the election a month later, the students from the universities would have been dispersed to their homes all over the country, in many cases not having a vote registered there and the string of Conservative losses such as Canterbury, Bath, Bristol West, etc. and Nick Clegg’s loss of Sheffield Hallam would not have taken place. Those are completely explicable in terms of the student vote. The fact that issue wasn’t even considered before timetabling the election must demonstrate vividly the lack of strategic planning within her process of decision making to call the election.
Another issue which is difficult to reconcile with any suggestion that there was a strategic element in the decision-making process is that the Government only needed to wait until October 2018 before the new House of Commons boundaries would come into force. These boundaries have been calculated on current populations and are thought to make it much easier for the Conservatives to get an overall majority. For a Conservative Leader to ignore that advantage in deciding to call an election shows a staggering lack of strategic thinking.
More generally I do not think that Theresa May succeeded in persuading voters that the election was really necessary for the purpose that she claimed to be calling it, i.e. as a mandate to push through her Brexit negotiations. Her unwillingness to take part in televised debates helped to make Jeremy Corbyn look a much more effective leader than she was. Her frankly rather silly slogans didn’t help to improve her standing.
We can’t however ignore the further example of catastrophic decision-making process which led to her producing her manifesto, without proper consultation with her Cabinet colleagues. It made even pensioners in English country towns and villages all across the land who had never voted for any other party other than the Conservatives in their lives, question whether they really wanted to support such a blunt attack on their interests.
Indeed the manifesto was so bad in terms of populist appeal, that if you were minded towards a conspiracy theory then you might think that Mrs May had actually tried to lose the election! Personally I generally are more inclined to “cock-up” this “conspiracy” theory. I think that what has happened is not only a demonstration of Mrs May’s inadequacies, but also more generally how poor the British parliamentary system is at producing people to occupy leadership positions who genuinely have any real leadership abilities and characteristics.
Theresa May is one example of somebody with virtually no natural leadership ability. So of course was Gordon Brown another example. Jeremy Corbyn seemed to be similar but the fact is that when he was able to break out of the Westminster bubble effect, he does seem to have shown some considerable personal leadership qualities. The fact remains though that the establishment's party system regularly seems to give people leadership titles and puts them into leadership roles which they are clearly personally unsuited to filling.