‘Truth is that Bri­tain is ... di­vided’

The prime min­is­ter’s two top aides re­sign af­ter her dis­as­trous elec­tion cam­paign.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Christina Boyle Boyle is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent.

LON­DON — Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May’s two clos­est aides re­signed Sat­ur­day amid the fall­out over her Con­ser­va­tive Party’s dis­as­trous gen­eral elec­tion cam­paign.

Chiefs of Staff Nick Ti­mothy and Fiona Hill be­came the first high-pro­file mem­bers of May’s core team to step down as the party worked out a way to re­group fol­low­ing a hu­mil­i­at­ing elec­tion that saw its ma­jor­ity wiped out.

“The gen­eral elec­tion re­sult was a huge dis­ap­point­ment,” Ti­mothy said in a state­ment posted on the Con­ser­va­tive Home web­site. “One can spec­u­late about the rea­sons for this, but the sim­ple truth is that Bri­tain is a di­vided coun­try.”

The pair were two of the prime min­is­ter’s top ad­vi­sors and there­fore many see them as re­spon­si­ble for her fail­ure to con­nect with vot­ers and win their sup­port.

In his state­ment, Ti­mothy made par­tic­u­lar men­tion of a man­i­festo pledge to change the way older peo­ple pay for their so­cial care, which is seen as a cru­cial turn­ing point in the cam­paign where the tide started to turn to­ward the main op­po­si­tion La­bor Party.

It was dubbed a “de­men­tia tax” by crit­ics and so widely crit­i­cized that May was forced to mod­ify her pro­pos­als.

Many saw her change of heart as a U-turn, and it alien­ated some of the Con­ser­va­tive Party’s key older vot­ers.

Ti­mothy said he stood by the en­tire man­i­festo, which he still saw as “an hon­est and strong pro­gram for govern­ment” but also took re­spon­si­bil­ity for its short­com­ings.

“I re­gret the de­ci­sion not to in­clude in the man­i­festo a ceil­ing as well as a floor in our pro­posal to help meet the in­creas­ing cost of so­cial care,” he wrote.

But he said the key rea­son for the Con­ser­va­tives’ fail­ure to win an over­all ma­jor­ity in Thurs­day’s elec­tion was an un­ex­pected surge in La­bor sup­port, un­der the lead­er­ship of Jeremy Cor­byn.

The Con­ser­va­tive Party won 318 seats in the elec­tion, eight short of the num­ber it needed to se­cure a ma­jor­ity in Par­lia­ment and 13 fewer than it had go­ing into the elec­tion.

Mean­while, the La­bor Party far ex­ceeded ex­pec­ta­tions by se­cur­ing 262 seats, an in­crease of 30.

When May called the elec­tion in April, all in­di­ca­tions were that she was go­ing to con­sol­i­date her ma­jor­ity — with some polls pre­dict­ing the Con­ser­va­tives could end up with a 100-seat ma­jor­ity.

But the cam­paign failed to in­spire, May’s per­for­mance was de­scribed as stilted and lack­lus­ter and key man­i­festo pledges were roundly crit­i­cized.

At­tempts to make the cam­paign about tough up­com­ing “Brexit” ne­go­ti­a­tions to pull out of the Euro­pean Union and the prime min­is­ter’s abil­ity to pro­vide strong lead­er­ship dur­ing a time of un­cer­tainty also fell flat as the La­bor camp stirred pas­sions with talk of in­creas­ing health­care fund­ing and end­ing univer­sity tu­ition fees, along with the need to stop years of the Con­ser­va­tives’ aus­ter­ity cuts.

Cor­byn’s mes­sage also cru­cially ap­pealed to younger vot­ers who are over­whelm­ingly op­posed to Brexit and voted in un­ex­pect­edly high num­bers.

“Many [Bri­tish cit­i­zens] are tired of aus­ter­ity, many re­main frus­trated or an­gry about Brexit, and many younger peo­ple feel they lack the op­por­tu­ni­ties en­joyed by their par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion,” Ti­mothy said in his state­ment.

Two ter­ror­ist at­tacks in the space of a few weeks also tem­po­rar­ily halted cam­paign­ing and called into ques­tion May’s ten­ure as home sec­re­tary where she presided over the elim­i­na­tion of 20,000 po­lice jobs.

De­spite im­me­di­ate calls for May to re­sign, the prime min­is­ter ap­peared de­fi­ant on Fri­day and said the coun­try needed “cer­tainty” and would form a govern­ment with the sup­port of Ire­land’s Demo­cratic Union­ist Party, or DUP, which won 10 seats.

But there were re­ports that Con­ser­va­tive law­mak­ers were threat­en­ing to chal­lenge May’s lead­er­ship as soon as Mon­day if she did not re­move her two clos­est ad­vi­sors, who fol­lowed her from the Home Of­fice where she worked un­til be­com­ing prime min­is­ter in 2016.

For­mer Cul­ture Min­is­ter Ed Vaizey told the BBC that Tory leg­is­la­tors were ac­tively dis­cussing a new leader us­ing the What­sApp mes­sag­ing ser­vice.

Even sec­tions of the Bri­tish press that had ar­dently backed the prime min­is­ter be­fore the elec­tion soured in their at­ti­tude to­ward her.

“Tories turn on Theresa,” the Daily Mail head­line said Sat­ur­day. “May stares into the abyss,” the Times of Lon­don wrote.

For­mer Down­ing Street di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Katie Per­rior, said the at­mos­phere within May’s camp had been “pretty toxic” with Ti­mothy and Hill at the helm. Staff mem­bers felt they could not speak freely when the pair was around, she said.

“She needed to broaden her cir­cle of ad­vi­sors,” Per­rior said in a BBC ra­dio in­ter­view. “She needed to have a few gray hairs in there who had been around the block a bit in pol­i­tics.”

May’s new chief of staff was an­nounced on Sat­ur­day as for­mer Con­ser­va­tive Party Hous­ing Min­is­ter Gavin Bar­well.

The res­ig­na­tions will prob­a­bly buy May some time but many doubt she should, or can, last longterm.

Deputy La­bor leader Tom Wat­son said on Twit­ter on Sat­ur­day that al­though May’s key ad­vi­sors had taken the fall, she alone “is the one re­spon­si­ble for her own de­feat.”

May’s im­me­di­ate con­cern is to so­lid­ify a deal with the DUP ahead of the Queen’s Speech on June 19, when she will set out the new govern­ment’s agenda for the next par­lia­men­tary term.

That is also the day that Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions with the EU are sched­uled to be­gin. But any deal she strikes with the DUP is likely to cause ten­sions, es­pe­cially given the party’s so­cially con­ser­va­tive stance on is­sues like same-sex mar­riage and abor­tion.

North­ern Ire­land is the only place in the U.K. where same-sex mar­riage is still il­le­gal.

Ruth David­son, leader of the Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tives, who is a les­bian and due to be mar­ried to her part­ner, said there are ob­vi­ously ar­eas of so­cial pol­icy where the two par­ties “dif­fer hugely.”

But she had sought and re­ceived “a cat­e­goric as­sur­ance” from the prime min­is­ter that there would be no roll­back of LGBT rights, as well as women’s rights.

A deal with the DUP also has the po­ten­tial to dis­rupt the del­i­cate bal­ance be­tween the Bri­tish loy­al­ists and Ir­ish na­tion­al­ists at a par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive time.

Bri­tain’s split from the rest of the Euro­pean Union could see the in­tro­duc­tion of a new land bor­der be­tween North­ern Ire­land, which will re­main part of the U.K., and main­land Ire­land, which will stay within the EU post-Brexit.

Daniel Leal-Oli­vas AFP/Getty Images

A DEMON­STRA­TOR dons a Theresa May head in Lon­don along­side a “Brexit” grave­stone on Fri­day. Younger peo­ple are over­whelm­ingly op­posed to Bri­tain’s exit from the EU and voted in un­ex­pect­edly high num­bers.

Frank Augstein As­so­ci­ated Press

CHIEFS OF STAFF Nick Ti­mothy and Fiona Hill, pic­tured Fri­day in Lon­don, are the first high-pro­file mem­bers of the prime min­is­ter’s core team to step down.

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