Wednesday 26 July 2017

Theresa May: 'Strong and stable' vision crumbled in heat of campaign

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May REUTERS/Toby Melville
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May REUTERS/Toby Melville

"Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't."

Theresa May would do well to reflect on that line from the Tory queen Margaret Thatcher as she tries to piece her party, her government and her country back together today.

Her logic in calling a snap election was easy to understand.

When she broached the idea with her Cabinet on April 18, the Conservatives were 21pc ahead in the polls and analysts suggested she could win up to 400 seats in the 650-seat chamber.

Falling for a dangerous trap in politics, Mrs May had begun to believe in her own hype. But like many opinion polls, they were also too good to be true.

She set herself a further trap by insisting that if she lost just six seats she could lose power.

But in the background, Mrs May had drawn together a tightly-controlled campaign team which believed it could redirect history.

Wrapped in an over-inflated sense of self-importance, Mrs May banked on having the personality to carry the day with meaningless soundbites like 'Brexit means Brexit'.

Mrs May led from the front, ensuring high-profile Brexiteers like Boris Johnson and Liam Fox were only afforded cameo roles.

And initially it was all going according to plan. The polls wavered only slightly and a friendly print media set about savaging 'Crackpot Corbyn'.

But Mrs May set an unusually long run-in to polling day and then ran a terrible canvass - claiming on one hand to be the woman to take on the EU bureaucrats while simultaneously refusing to debate with the supposedly deadbeat Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The debate was supposed to be focused almost exclusively on Brexit - but, as any seasoned politician will tell you, trying to predict the narrative of an election campaign is a dangerous game.

The Tories set about stoking fear of the Labour Party but this drew comparisons with the scare tactics used by the 'Leave' side in the Brexit campaign.

Mrs May tried to paint a nostalgic picture of an empire that is long gone. But the detail was weak and so was the personality.

She failed to put forward any specifics on what Brexit might look like. On policy she refused to recommit to David Cameron's "triple lock" pledge not to raise income tax, national insurance or VAT.

Then came the row-back on her social care revolution which became dubbed the 'Dementia Tax'.

Even when she tried to have a bit of fun it went wrong: apparently the "naughtiest" thing she has ever done is run through a field of wheat as a child.

This was about being able to present a 'strong and stable' government that would wrestle the power back from Brussels.

Instead, Mrs May hung herself out to dry and shifted the balance of power to Belfast.

Irish Independent

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