Theresa May: How long can she last?

Au Royaume-Uni, une Première mi­nistre va­cillante.

Vocable (Anglais) - - Édito Sommaire -

Au Royaume-Uni, la première mi­nistre Theresa May est en mau­vaise pos­ture. En­li­sée dans les né­go­cia­tions du Brexit, fra­gi­li­sée de­puis les élec­tions an­ti­ci­pées de juin où les Conser­va­teurs ont per­du leur ma­jo­ri­té, elle est dé­sor­mais très contes­tée dans son camp. L’heb­do­ma­daire bri­tan­nique The Eco­no­mist fait le point sur l’ave­nir de Theresa May et du par­ti conser­va­teur, plus di­vi­sé que jamais.

Even for a prime mi­nis­ter at the peak of her po­wers, it would have been un­for­tu­nate. For one ba­re­ly clin­ging to her job, it amoun­ted to al­most cos­mic le­vels of bad luck. First, Theresa May’s speech to the Con­ser­va­tive Par­ty confe­rence in Man­ches­ter was in­ter­rup­ted by a pranks­ter who was so­me­how al­lo­wed to hand her a P45, a form gi­ven to Bri­tish wor­kers when they get the sack. Then she suf­fe­red a cou­ghing fit that not even a lo­zenge gal­lant­ly pro­vi­ded by the chan­cel­lor of the ex­che­quer could halt. Fi­nal­ly, let­ters from the slo­gan on the wall be­hind Mrs May be­gan drop­ping off one by one. Sit­com wri­ters would have thought it a bit much. 2. Af­ter cal­ling an elec­tion this spring that strip­ped the To­ries of their ma­jo­ri­ty and cost 30 of her MPs their job, Mrs May al­rea­dy fa­ced a tough gig. Bo­ris John­son, the fo­rei­gn se­cre­ta­ry, had spent the pre­vious fort­night tram­pling go­vern­ment po­li­cy with ap­pa­rent im­pu­ni­ty. Now her fluf­fed speech, which was sup­po­sed to reas­sert her au­tho­ri­ty, has re­vi­ved spe­cu­la­tion about how long she can last.


3. Even be­fore the fias­co it was clear that the par­ty was gro­wing ti­red of its lea­der and be­gin­ning to plan for the fu­ture. There were fre­quent­ly empty seats in the main hall, where mi­nis­ters made main­ly stale speeches.

4. By contrast, pa­cked mee­tings on the fringes were alive with de­bate about the hole the par­ty is in, and how it should dig its way out. Mem­bers wor­ried a lot about their par­ty’s make-up, which—as was plain to any vi­si­tor— is old and white. Young people were ap­proa­ched with near-an­thro­po­lo­gi­cal fas­ci­na­tion. Fe­wer than one in four un­der-30s ba­cked the To­ries in the June elec­tion.

5. The par­ty has al­so lost sup­port from eth­nic mi­no­ri­ties. Sam Gyi­mah, one of its

Even be­fore the fias­co, it was clear that the par­ty was gro­wing ti­red of its lea­der.

few black MPs, ur­ged To­ries to concen­trate on va­lues, such as en­ter­prise and free­dom. Others bla­med Mrs May’s harsh line on im­mi­gra­tion. Yet some of the To­ries’ few gains in En­gland in June came in places such as Mans­field and Midd­les­brough, with big chunks of white wor­king-class vo­ters. 45% of people who vo­ted for the UK In­de­pen­dence Par­ty in 2015 ba­cked the To­ries in 2017, ac­cor­ding to YouGov. The par­ty has yet to find a way to ap­peal to both groups. It is alive to the gro­wing an­ger about aus­te­ri­ty.

6. James Cle­ver­ly, a bar­rel-ches­ted sol­dier tur­ned MP, re­cal­led mee­ting a consti­tuent who felt unable to vote Con­ser­va­tive be­cause she was a nurse. “That was all she felt she needed to say,” he re­por­ted. When it comes to pu­blic fi­nances, Mr Cle­ver­ly ar­gued that the Con­ser­va­tives sim­ply needed to re­mind vo­ters that Bri­tain’s fi­nan­cial mess was La­bour’s fault. Mrs May dou­bled down on this theme. She was in­tro­du­ced by a vi­deo out­li­ning the eco­no­mic mess in­he­ri­ted by the Con­ser­va­tives in 2010. But se­ven years have pas­sed and such ex­pla­na­tions are wea­ring thin.


7. Je­re­my Cor­byn haun­ted the event. The prime mi­nis­ter, chan­cel­lor and fo­rei­gn se­cre­ta­ry re­fer­red to La­bour’s lea­der by name 20 times in their speeches, ha­ving ba­re­ly men­tio­ned him at last year’s confe­rence. Yet the To­ries still seem un­sure how to at­tack him. Mr Cor­byn was va­rious­ly por­trayed as a pan­to­mime villain and a threat to the na­tion. Mem­bers mooed their assent as Mr John­son laid in­to “that NATO­ba­shing, Tri­dent-scrap­ping, would-be abo­li­sher of the Bri­tish ar­my”. Phi­lip Ham­mond, the chan­cel­lor, ki­cked off his speech with a his­to­ry les­son on Bri­tain in the 1970s and then a whistle-stop tour of coun­tries where so­cia­lism has brought mi­se­ry. Some mi­nis­ters left the im­pres­sion that their prio­ri­ty was sim­ply to block La­bour, ra­ther than go­vern. “Kee­ping Cor­byn out seems to me a du­ty of any sen­sible po­li­ti­cian, par­ti­cu­lar­ly a Con­ser­va­tive po­li­ti­cian,” said Da­mian Green, the de fac­to de­pu­ty prime mi­nis­ter, to a th­ree-quar­ters empty fringe.


8. Brexit, ska­ted over qui­ck­ly by Mrs May, crea­ted the most ex­ci­te­ment among at­ten­dees, es­pe­cial­ly when anyone sug­ges­ted it would be hard, fast and ea­sy. Yet on this sub­ject more than on any other it is pro­ving dif­fi­cult to agree on a stra­te­gy. The ca­bi­net is pu­bli­cly split. And the mood of the confe­rence, at which de­le­gates chee­red refe­rences to Agin­court and Wa­ter­loo, sug­gests that par­ty mem­bers will be hos­tile to any lea­der who pro­poses to com­pro­mise.

9. The To­ries still have some cause for op­ti­mism. Even af­ter weeks of in­figh­ting un­der a po­wer­less prime mi­nis­ter, the par­ty is not far be­hind La­bour in most polls. The next elec­tion need not come un­til 2022. “The po­pu­la­ri­ty of snap elections may have gone down,” no­ted Mr Green. Fol­lo­wing her bot­ched re­launch, Mrs May re­cei­ved pu­blic sup­port from col­leagues.

10.Yet few have much en­thu­siasm for her in pri­vate. To­ry MPs’ be­lief that the par­ty is too weak to bear ano­ther lea­der­ship con­test is being tes­ted to the li­mit. The prime mi­nis­ter sits atop a par­ty that knows it must change eve­ry­thing from its po­li­cies to, even­tual­ly, its lea­der.


Co­me­dian Si­mon Brod­kin confronts Theresa May at the Con­ser­va­tive Par­ty Confe­rence, Oct. 4, 2017.

Eter Byrne/AP/SIPA)

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