Still shell-shocked by an election result they never expected Britain’s Conservatives are doing everything they can to ensure Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party wins the next election by a landslide.
The election left Britain’s Conservatives seven seats short of a majority in the British Parliament, but still the biggest party, with the biggest share of the vote (42.5% to Labour’s 40%) and the largest number of seats (318 to Labour’s 262).
There is an anti-Labour majority in the British Parliament consisting of the Conservatives and the right wing Northern Irish Protestant Democratic Unionist Party (the DUP), which makes it impossible for Labour to form a government. The only possible government therefore is a Conservative government surviving with the support of the DUP.
The Conservatives have been widely criticised for negotiating with the DUP to give some formality to what would otherwise be a tacit arrangement. Several commentators including the former Conservative Prime Minister John Major have argued that the Conservative government could continue in office without a formal arrangement with the DUP since it is inconceivable that the DUP – which detests Jeremy Corbyn because of the sympathy he has expressed in the past for the cause of a united Ireland – would ever vote into power.
In my opinion the Conservatives are right to ignore these arguments. Whilst it is surely true that the DUP would never willingly act so as to bring Jeremy Corbyn to power, any government if it is to function efficiently needs to minimise the uncertainty it faces, and that points to the need for some sort of arrangement with the DUP so that the government can be sure of its support on crucial votes.
However what makes the optics of this arrangement so terrible is that Theresa May remains Prime Minister.
I have been pointing out since September that Theresa May is a weak and indecisive leader lacking in ideas. What in September was a unique view is today the universal one.
Whatever view is taken of the election it was certainly not the resounding mandate for Theresa May she sought when she called it. Whilst it is true that she polled more votes than Jeremy Corbyn (13,667,213 to 12,874,985), the election is universally seen as a refusal of the mandate Theresa May asked for from the voters. That taken together with her now acknowledged deficiencies as leader should seal her fate.
There have been some claims that Theresa May will ‘learn from her mistakes’ and emerge a better, stronger and more collegiate leader after the election than she was before.
Believing that is a triumph of hope over experience. A leader who was weak, indecisive and lacking in ideas when the politically tide seemed to be surging overwhelmingly in her favour is not going to become strong, decisive and brimming with ideas when it has turned against her. Far more likely is that she will start before long to unravel under the pressure.
By clinging on to Theresa May the Conservatives are managing to give the impression of an arrogant and discredited leader clinging on to power by doing a deal with a Northern Irish party with conservative social views which are rejected by the majority of British voters. Meanwhile they are sticking with a leader who is universally derided as inadequate.
The iron law of British politics is that minority governments – ie. governments with no majority in the British Parliament, and which therefore have to lead a hand to mouth existence surviving from vote to vote – quickly lose authority, setting themselves up for a heavy election defeat.
That is what happened to the Labour government of 1974 to 1979, and it is what also happened to the Conservative government of 1992 to 1997, which began with a small majority, which however it eventually lost by losing parliamentary bye-elections.
The best strategy for the Conservatives is to get themselves a new leader immediately and to work towards a new election as soon as possible, before too much damage is done. In such a case, whilst it is now highly likely Jeremy Corbyn and Labour will win, the Conservatives would have a real hope of limiting the size of his majority.
Instead the Conservatives are not only keeping Theresa May as their leader; but seem to be digging in, talking ridiculously of continuing in government under her leadership for a full term of five years.
Not only is that not going to happen – even the tiny majority the Conservatives have with the DUP will soon vanish because of bye-elections – but it is absolutely the wrong strategy, which is setting the Conservatives up for disaster.
I understand the Conservatives’ problem. Though Theresa May’s inadequacies as leader are now painfully obvious, the Conservative Party is startlingly lacking in convincing alternative leaders to put her in place.
The Conservative politician best known internationally apart from Theresa May herself is Boris Johnson. That clownish character looked like a serious prospect for Conservative leader and Prime Minister last summer. However his behaviour during the leadership election last summer – when he dithered for days before announcing he was a candidate – and his bungling performance as Foreign Secretary, has – one presumes – put paid to his hopes.
However none of the other alternatives looks convincing. Michael Gove is said to be brilliant but in ways that put off far more people than he attracts. Whether he is actually as brilliant or even as clever as he thinks is actually open to doubt.
Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, and Philip Hammond, the Chancellor (ie. Finance Minister), are both grey and incompetent (Hammond was a truly dreadful Foreign Secretary, worse if possible than Boris Johnson).
Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, only just retained her seat in the election with a majority of 346, which is hardly a rousing endorsement from the people who know her best. She looks anyway too much like a repeat of Theresa May.
The fact however remains that even if all the alternatives to Theresa May are bad, the option of clinging on to her is worse. She after all has been rejected by the voters, which none of the others has.
As discussed, the Conservatives’ best strategy is to work towards holding the next election as soon as possible under a temporary leader, whose job will be not to win the election but to limit the size of Jeremy Corbyn’s majority. The Conservatives would then be in a stronger position to mount a challenge to Corbyn later under a new more convincing leader.
Theresa May is the worst possible candidate to do that, and Boris Johnson is not much better. Ideas of clinging on to power under Theresa May’s leadership for five years through a deal with the DUP are fantasy, and can only lead to disaster.
The Conservatives need to rethink their strategy fast. If they do, they will realise that Theresa May is completely the wrong person to continue as Prime Minister. They should follow their traditions by getting rid of her, and do so without delay.