The UK general election will be no coronation for Theresa May

Written by Mike Rann on 7 June 2017

Theresa May | Photo credit: Press Association

The UK's general election will be no coronation for Theresa May, writes Mike Rann.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May is set to secure a comfortable majority this week's general election, but has personally lost stature in a campaign focused on her leadership. Even if she wins well, she has been damaged by her performance. Instead of being the 'coronation' her advisers expected, the Prime Minister has at times looked brittle and even rattled.  

Worst of all, she was forced to publicly repudiate major policy commitments she made only days before, following a voter backlash against her social care policies and 'dementia tax'. May had been described as the only leader tough enough to take on the EU in Brexit negotiations. 

Yet here she was flip-flopping on core manifesto promises and then compounding her embarrassment by denying she had done so. She also refused to debate Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. 

The mood among commentators suddenly became, "If she's not confident enough to handle Corbyn or strong enough to stick to her policies how can she take on tough EU negotiators?"    

Even May's own party is troubled by her judgment and performance, particularly against Corbyn, who is widely perceived to be weak, unelectable and unfit for the top job. 

May had been vehement there was no need for an election prior to 2020. She publicly repeated ruling out a snap poll on seven occasions. She was pressured into it by advisers who convinced her there couldn't be a better time. 

May had a massive edge over Corbyn in leadership ratings and these polls also pointed to a triumph over Labour in its traditional regional strongholds which voted overwhelmingly for Brexit in last year's referendum. Her performance in this campaign is unlikely to silence Tory critics. Internal criticism of the strategy, tactics and the Prime Minister's staff is already bubbling out in the media. 

There have been other problems with the campaign. The Tories, backed by right-wing newspapers, launched a series of massive attacks, highlighting Corbyn's inadequacies, including bizarre policy positions over the decades, his opposition to Britain's nuclear deterrent, and alleged ties or sympathies with the IRA, Hamas and a range of other causes deemed to be anti-British.  

However, the public had already made up their minds that Corbyn wasn't suited to occupy No 10.  The way he has been demonised has only succeeded in winning him some sympathy and given him anti-establishment cult status with young voters.  

Despite it being a leadership election, polls show more than one third of voters now have a more negative opinion of the Prime Minister than they did at the beginning of the campaign, while 39 per cent claim their view of Corbyn has improved. 

The Conservatives lead has also fallen dramatically in most polls, from above 20 per cent at the start of the campaign to less than 10 per cent, and much closer in some polls in recent days. But we must be cautious in interpreting UK polls. Voter turnout can be a major factor. Corbyn is doing well with young people but at the last election less than half of 18 to 24 year olds bothered to vote.  

Minor parties were expecting to do well in this election but there is no sign of that. The Lib Dems were hoping to prise off Labour moderates who couldn't bring themselves to vote for Corbyn and be a lightning rod for those 48 per cent of UK voters who voted Remain in the EU referendum. 

This election should have been the perfect opportunity for Ukip to step up after its Brexit victory to secure disaffected Labour voters in the north of England and to sell themselves as the best vehicle to hold the Tories' feet to the fire on Brexit terms.  

Instead, Ukip has been in meltdown with popular former leader Nigel Farage resigning and then several botched attempts to find a replacement. Ukip will receive nowhere near the 3.8 million votes obtained at the last election.       

I'm under no doubt that Theresa May will win this election. Labour will pile up big majorities in its safe seats in anti-Brexit London and in university areas but fail to pick up the marginal seats required to win government.  

Meanwhile, Labour moderates are terrified that a better than expected result for Corbyn could cement him into the Labour leadership and ensure a continuation of policies that would guarantee only permanent political irrelevance.                     

The last days of this campaign will be fought in the shadow of yet another terrible terrorist attack in London. Theresa May will win and could win well but many of her team will not be happy. Their best opportunity to secure political dominance for another decade has been squandered. Some will also question their Prime Minister's ability to get the best deal for Britain in Brexit talks that start within days. 


About the author

Mike Rann is CEO of Rann Strategy Group

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