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Theresa May has been to Buckingham Palace and will continue as Her Majesty’s Prime Minister. One seat is yet to declare the result of yesterday’s general election. That it is Kensington, one of the safest of Tory strongholds, and that it is in doubt is the election in a nutshell; Mrs May gambled on gaining and lost her base. From working majority to minority government in six weeks and blowing the largest slice of goodwill the Conservative party has enjoyed in a generation.
Already we have calls that the Conservatives were not left wing enough, that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour with its hard socialist message shows the electorate has moved left. Utter rubbish. The Tories got their largest vote share in decades despite their ruinous manifesto. What we have just had is a re-run of the referendum from last year with no one really mentioning it. Mrs May was right to believe that UKIP’s vote would collapse and totally wrong on how to woo them. Mr Corbyn’s vague promises on Brexit going ahead was enough to tempt former Labour ‘kippers back into the fold once Mrs May failed to follow up her Brexit rhetoric with any conviction. Worse still her policy proscriptions showed a complete failure to diagnose the Brexit coalition, to treat it as a malady rather than a rejection of the governing consensus. Endless time has been spent trying to determine the reasons for Brexit, with no concrete answer because there is not one. Rather there were a whole host of reasons, the one unifying theme was that the liberal elite were taking the country down the wrong path, whether that was immigration policy or sovereignty issues or any of the other reasons people voted to leave the EU. If the vote last year was a rejection of Third Way centrist Blairism, offering a Blairite manifesto was the height of idiocy. Failure to galvanise this base with a positive vision of the future – as the Leave campaign did last year – while the remnants of the Remain campaign quietly and carefully coordinated their side with a simple stop ‘Hard Brexit’ message, was the real reason for this complete cock-up.
Mrs May had a twenty point lead in the polls despite being the least media friendly Prime Minister in recent memory. She was Judi Dench’s M from the recent James Bond films, competently in the background organising her more flamboyant operatives while simultaneously showing she had bigger balls than any of them; Margaret Thatcher without actually having to be Maggie. Calling an election and putting herself front and centre like a presidential candidate destroyed that image and thrust her own brand of ‘Red Toryism’ into the limelight. It had gone down like a cup of sick with the Tory faithful, who were willing to see it as an olive branch to the media crowd but not campaign on it. Insulting the libertarian wing of the party (well over a third of the activists and certainly the more Brexiteer members) in a speech is one thing, equating them with socialists twice in the manifesto was another. The most common phrase of conservatives was “if it wasn’t for Brexit…” before disavowing the very Milibandesque manifesto they were supposed to sell. Consequently the public were hardly enthused, indeed the MP responsible for it lost his seat.
The silver linings from this disaster are there for those willing to read the runes. The most obvious is the fall in support for the Scottish Nationalists, kicking a second independence referendum into the long grass. While acknowledging I scoffed at the idea of a dozen Tory seats north of the border, I would have to counter that it cost a majority south of it. Whether that will be worth the instability now on offer only time will tell. Secondly, the Remain elements of the party are now weakened while the Leavers are enhanced. While this may look paradoxical the morning after the night before, if ‘Theresa’s Team’ had won a majority approaching the three figure mark the Thatcherite free market wing of the party would have been sidelined. As they have actually been the most loyal of all Mrs May parliamentary troops, we now have the chance to see them promoted. The fate of the Boris-bashing Amber Rudd, whose five thousand majority shrunk to less than four hundred in Brexit-voting Hastings, shows how the referendum last year has changed the game. The fact that Mrs May elevated this woman to succeed her as Home Secretary, and then sent her out to bat as her surrogate in the TV debate, illustrates how out of touch Tory high command are; Mrs Rudd goes down well with the media class but not the base. Again this is a lesson for the Conservative party, no matter how they pander to the political correct crowd it will never be enough to induce them to vote Tory and only alienates supporters. After the BBC quite shamelessly put its thumb on the scales in this election (and they are hardly hiding their glee this morning either), the Tories would be well advised to start taking a leaf out of President Trump’s playbook and fight back. They could follow his lead on terrorism and climate change too….
Mrs May will probably continue as a caretaker PM – the Brexit negotiations are due to start in ten days time – but she is weakened, perhaps fatally. On the other hand governing as Chairman rather than the Cabinet CEO offers her the best path to redemption. She wished to craft her own agenda to leave as a legacy instead of grasping that a successful Brexit would be her best chance at history. In the long run this election might just be better for the country, though you could put a safe bet on the Tories tacking further left in reaction to this debacle.