Theresa May’s gamble
The prime minister calls a snap election with Brexit in the balance
Theresa May showed herself Tuesday to be a bit of a gambler, but only a bit. Armed with publicopinion polls revealing an unusual opportunity to trade a sure thing for a better thing, she stunned Britain, surprised Europe and fascinated Washington by calling for new parliamentary elections on June 8.
She has three years to go on the term she inherited in the wake of Britain’s vote to leave Europe and the consequent shake-up of the government, and now she’s a prohibitive favorite to win a five-year term of her own.
Reliable polls show her Conservatives with enormous leads of 18 to 25 points over the sclerotic Labor Party, which observers in London reckon would increase the Tory majority in the House of Commons from 17 seats to as many as 70 seats. This would transform negotiating the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union from a struggle to a contest of equals.
Such a stunning victory would give her new government a mandate and five years to ease Britain out of Europe on its own terms and on to a political landscape utterly changed. Her lot now is negotiating with Europe on terms drawn up by the petty bureaucrats of Brussels, who regard the May government as an accident of history. They bite continuously at her ankles.
There’s the further prospect of a new vote on Scottish independence and endless legal sniping from embittered losers in last year’s Brexit vote who, in the way of pious elites in America, cannot believe that the unwashed peasants made up their own minds in voting to leave Europe. If the Tories win the June 8 vote she sweeps all that away.
The prospect of a sweeping Tory majority on June 8, even if just short of a landslide, makes Mrs. May’s decisive turn look like something less of a gamble, but prime ministers do not like to take risks with their own power, as John O’Sullivan, a perceptive Englishman, writes in National Review.
“They reckon that possession is nine-tenths of the law. It took judgment, courage and a cool head for Mrs. May to choose the likelihood of five more years in power over the near certainty of the next three. Fortune favors the fair but there are no guarantees. But if we assume that although the race is not always to the swift [but] that’s the way to bet, what will a Tory victory mean for the future?
“The first impact will be that Brexit becomes a certainty. None of the various plots and maneuvers against it will be able to withstand the democratic steamroller of an election victory on a pro-Brexit manifesto. The lawsuits will wither, the [House of] Lords will retreat, the civil servants will rediscover the Constitution, the judges will hibernate through the winter of negotiations. And in Brussels, the prospects of the inevitiable will clarify the minds of the Eurocrats and predispose them to negotiate seriously for a deal that benefits both sides. None of the various plots and maneuvers against Brexit will be able to withstand that democratic steamroller of an election victory on a pro-Brexit manifesto.”
The doughty vicar’s daughter trades her reputation as a resolute but cautious leader to a decisive leader of boldness and resolve almost in the mold of Margaret Thatcher (though there’s so only one Maggie). By winning on her own, she can transform herself from Theresa May to Theresa Will.