Rethinking Europe

Why Theresa May Is No Winner

The British Prime Minister supposedly had a “sure hand” for the June 8 elections. Then, she collapsed.

Credit: DFID - UK Department for International Development www.flickr.com

Takeaways


  • Theresa May doesn’t really have an inner core. She is just always desperate to make the “right” move.
  • When she decided to call for elections, Theresa May thought she had everything wrapped up perfectly.
  • May’s biggest mistake by calling an election was that she left the carefully constructed cocoon of Downing Street.

Theresa May doesn’t really have an inner core. She is just always desperate to make the “right” move to please, placate or coopt whomever she needs to in order to protect her standing – or advancement – in politics.

Perhaps the best evidence of this is that, given her instinctively anti-immigration, if not xenophobic baseline instincts, that she did not join the pro-Brexit Conservatives during the referendum campaign.

A year ago: Defending Juncker’s EU

Instead, she gave speeches last year in defense of UK membership in the EU that Jean-Claude Junker’s speechwriters could have drafted.

Nothing could illustrate more powerfully the utter haplessness with which Theresa May operates.

Madame Safety’s big gamble

When she decided to call for elections, Theresa May thought she had everything wrapped up perfectly – just as she had been sure earlier that the Brexit vote would not succeed.

Like a seeming political pro:

• She targeted the 4 million UKIP voters by offering them the hardest of hard Brexits, including leaving the Single Market and Customs Union.

• She accused the EU of “aggressive tactics” and interfering in the British election after Mrs. Merkel told the Bundestag that London had the “illusion” that Brexit would be costless.

• She refused the democratic norm of television debates with Corbyn or other political leaders.

• She gave interviews that were confused and shrill. Overall, she gave the British public the impression not of a safe pair of hands, but of a deer caught in headlights.

Her biggest mistake yet

However, her biggest mistake by going for an election was that, for the first time, she left the carefully constructed cocoon of Downing Street in which she had toiled pretty much under wraps before.

Previously, she had largely only appeared in public for carefully staged Brexit speeches.

Since the election campaign began, the public saw her exposed day after day – not hidden behind curtains in Downing Street or, as previously, buried in the corridors of the Home Office.

Coming out of the shadows

It is now clear why staying in the shadows was well-advised.The British public, even many conservatives, do not at all like what they saw when they saw more of their prime minister.

No wonder Theresa May finishes the election much weaker than she started as her ratings went down and down.

Not a good politician

The fact that she lost much, if not most, of her strong electoral hand against Jeremy Corbyn, widely deemed a non-candidate and sure loser, tells us a lot about the political faculties of Theresa May.

To be sure, she sounded tough after the London terror attack, in contrast to Corbyn, whose record of closeness to terror outfits like the IRA and Hamas means he is not taken seriously on internal security issues.

But Mrs May had six years as the UK minister in charge of police and counter-terrorism and did little save cut police numbers by 15%. So although she tries to sound tough her record is poor.

It also tells the British public, once and for all, that she is not a leader who will impress anybody in Europe now that the Brexit negotiations will shortly begin in earnest.

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About Denis MacShane

Denis MacShane is a Contributing Editor at The Globalist. He was the UK's Minister for Europe from 2002 to 2005 — and is the author of “Brexiternity. The Uncertain Fate of Britain” published by IB Tauris-Bloomsbury, London, October 2019. Follow him @DenisMacShane

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