Theresa May’s weak victory could mean a softer Brexit

Theresa May had hoped to win a thumping majority and a strong domestic mandate before Britain goes into Brexit negotiations in September.

SRIJAN SHUKLA

Electoral democracies can make even the most orchestrated political gambles look like empty chutzpah. The results of Britain’s snap polls illustrate this point. And Prime Minister Theresa May will possibly be remembered along with David Cameron, for their fine art of political miscalculations.

May’s gamble of trying to expand the thin Conservative Party majority by calling an unexpected election, has completely backfired, resulting in a hung House of Commons. Her intention was to pitch her style of “strong and stable” leadership against the weak Labour Party leadership under Jeremy Corbyn. But May’s business-like leadership style with apparent lack of charisma and empathy did not go down well with the British electorate.

May had hoped to gain a thumping majority and a strong domestic mandate before Britain goes into Brexit negotiations in September.

Her campaign was not only lacklustre but full of glaring political blunders — starting from the social care fiasco to a party manifesto that turned away from the long-held Thatcherite consensus. It was reported that most Conservative Party ministers were not even consulted in formulating the manifesto, while a coterie of four around May dominated the process.

For an election called by May to boost her mandate for Brexit negotiations, her manifesto was completely devoid of a serious roadmap for negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union. Rather, she used Brexit as a stick against Corbyn. Whenever she found her poll numbers dipping, she would incite fears about the possibility of Britain negotiating its exit under the weak leadership of Corbyn.

On the other hand, Corbyn came across as a more enigmatic candidate. Before the campaign started, Corbyn’s politics was considered to be of the hard-left. Even during the campaign he faced serious allegations of having ties with the Irish Republican Army back in the day. But to Labour’s benefit, the Corbyn-led campaign was not as hard-left as the politics of the man himself. More importantly, Britons were fatigued of the Conservative government’s hard-austerity and saw hope in Labour’s proposed plans of increased spending across sectors.

Calls for her exit are mounting, but she is digging her heels in for now. For the Labour Party, an unexpected electoral boost under Corbyn would be welcome by most parts of the party. With Corbyn’s final takeover, it can now safely be said that Tony Blair’s New Left project is dead. Most analysts are anticipating another election on the cards.

The scenario for Brexit negotiations where Britain could bargain hard are slim. For now, May has managed to achieve the miraculous task of uniting the 27 EU states against Britain, and has had one disastrous meeting with the European Commission president, after which she described herself as a “bloody difficult woman” to deal with. But given the electoral results, a fortunate outcome may be that a hard-Brexit looks increasingly improbable. A more consensual approach to the negotiations is on the cards.

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