May’s snap elec­tion back­fires; Tories head for ma­jor­ity loss

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY GUY TAY­LOR

In what would be a shock­ing re­pu­di­a­tion of Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May, Bri­tish exit polls Thurs­day sug­gested the rul­ing Con­ser­va­tives were on course to lose their ma­jor­ity in Par­lia­ment in an elec­tion Mrs. May called to ce­ment her power and boost her bar­gain­ing lever­age ahead of tough ne­go­ti­a­tions over ex­it­ing the Euro­pean Union.

While the fi­nal re­sults were un­cer­tain late Thurs­day, it seemed clear that Mrs. May’s bid to build up her slen­der ma­jor­ity had back­fired badly and that the La­bor Party and its be­lea­guered leader, Jeremy Cor­byn, had far sur­passed the ex­pec­ta­tions of just two months ago.

While the Con­ser­va­tives were on course to re­main the sin­gle largest party in the House of Com­mons, the exit polls pointed to a “hung Par­lia­ment” that would re­quire Mrs. May to cob­ble to­gether a coali­tion to stay in power or even clear the way for Mr.

Cor­byn to try to put to­gether a gov­ern­ing coali­tion of his own.

In what pun­dits just seven weeks ago were say­ing was an elec­tion that could dec­i­mate the left­ist La­bor Party, the BBC pro­jected early Fri­day that La­bor was on track to gain 29 seats in the allpow­er­ful House of Com­mons, mostly at the ex­pense of the Scot­tish Na­tional Party (SNP). The Con­ser­va­tives would lose nine.

Re­spond­ing to the num­bers af­ter re­tain­ing his seat, Mr. Cor­byn said that Mrs. May should re­sign “and make way for a gov­ern­ment that is truly rep­re­sen­ta­tive of this coun­try.”

Even with the re­sults still trick­ling in, the Bri­tish pound was fall­ing sharply on world cur­rency mar­kets amid fears that the vote might not pro­duce a clear win­ner or leave Bri­tain with an un­sta­ble coali­tion ill-equipped for the Brexit talks. The knives were al­ready com­ing out for the prime min­is­ter.

‘Last­ing shock’

The BBC pro­jec­tion was a lit­tle less un­fa­vor­able to the Con­ser­va­tives than were the first exit poll pro­jec­tions, re­leased shortly af­ter the vot­ing ended, which had La­bor gain­ing 34 seats. But the polling was suf­fi­cient to have an­a­lysts writ­ing Mrs. May’s po­lit­i­cal epi­taph.

Craig Oliver, com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor to Mrs. May’s Con­ser­va­tive pre­de­ces­sor David Cameron, pre­dicted a “deep and last­ing shock” to the party and to Mrs. May.

“It was the big­gest gam­ble a politi­cian has taken for a long time, and if that exit poll is right, it’s failed,” he told Sky News.

How­ever, un­cer­tainty swirled into the night over the re­sults of a vote that was sup­posed to be a cake­walk for Mrs. May but had turned into a po­lit­i­cal mine­field down the stretch af­ter Is­lamist-in­spired ter­ror­ist at­tacks that hit Manch­ester last month and Lon­don last week.

An­a­lysts said Mrs. May couldn’t have pre­dicted the twist, which shifted pub­lic fo­cus away from her per­ceived im­age as a far more de­ci­sive leader than Mr. Cor­byn and in­stead thrust me­dia at­ten­tion onto the prime min­is­ter’s record as Bri­tain’s home sec­re­tary — the Cab­i­net po­si­tion roughly anal­o­gous to the U.S. at­tor­ney gen­eral.

The at­tacks raised dif­fi­cult ques­tions about the abil­ity of the wo­man who had been Bri­tain’s top law en­force­ment of­fi­cial to man­age the ji­hadi threat.

Be­yond whether the Con­ser­va­tives can cob­ble to­gether a gov­ern­ment, there re­mains the pos­si­bil­ity that Mrs. May might not be able even to keep her post as party leader af­ter per­son­ally de­cid­ing on April 11 to call the sur­prise snap elec­tion.

At the time, Mrs. May’s Con­ser­va­tives held a 20-point lead over La­bor in the polls.

But the BBC pro­jec­tion showed the Con­ser­va­tives win­ning 322 seats in the House of Com­mons. The House of Com­mons has 650 seats, mean­ing a party would need 326 to form a gov­ern­ment.

La­bor’s un­of­fi­cial to­tal was 261 seats, with the SNP tak­ing just 32, a loss of 24 Scot­tish seats it had held prior to the elec­tion.

The Lib­eral Democrats were pro­jected to win 13 by the BBC, up from the cur­rent eight-seat con­tin­gent. But their party leader won’t be sit­ting in the House of Com­mons, as Nick Clegg lost his Sh­effield Hal­lam seat in north­ern Eng­land to La­bor. Mr. Clegg had been deputy prime min­is­ter when his party was part of a coali­tion gov­ern­ment from 2010 to 2015.

The BBC pro­jected other par­ties to win 22 seats, mostly the Welsh na­tion­al­ists and the lo­cal par­ties in North­ern Ire­land, where the ma­jor par­ties gen­er­ally don’t run.

The fi­nal count for the last district is ex­pected some­time Fri­day morn­ing.

Unin­spired cam­paign

De­spite her ad­van­tages, Mrs. May, 60, proved to be an unin­spir­ing can­di­date whose cam­paign was marked by a string of un­forced er­rors.

Be­sides the ter­ror­ist at­tacks, Mrs. May wasn’t able to take ad­van­tage of the Brexit talks, which she hoped to make a cen­ter­piece of her cam­paign.

Un­bur­dened by ex­pec­ta­tions, Mr. Cor­byn proved far more ef­fec­tive on the stump, ex­ploit­ing Con­ser­va­tive er­rors on do­mes­tic pol­icy and even us­ing the ter­ror­ist at­tacks to ding Mrs. May for na­tion­wide cuts to po­lice forces as part of the Con­ser­va­tive aus­ter­ity pro­gram.

Still, the polls go­ing into the vote sug­gested that the Con­ser­va­tives had done enough to at least break even. Many saw the elec­tion com­ing down to turnout among young vot­ers, who were seen as much more likely to lean left and vote for Mr. Cor­byn’s La­bor Party.

An­a­lysts com­pared Mr. Cor­byn’s plight to that of Sen. Bernard San­ders of Ver­mont in last year’s Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial pri­mary in the U.S., but the exit polls sug­gested Mr. Cor­byn had done a far bet­ter job turn­ing out the young vot­ers who lean to the left but do not turn out at the polls in the same num­bers as con­ser­va­tive vot­ers.

Des­mond Lach­man, a res­i­dent fel­low with the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute, pointed to “se­ri­ous mis­steps” by Mrs. May.

“In a man­ner rem­i­nis­cent of Bernie,” Mr. Lach­man wrote in an anal­y­sis, “Mr. Cor­byn’s far-left elec­toral mes­sage of in­creased so­cial spend­ing and higher taxes on the rich has res­onated with the U.K.’s young and dis­af­fected vot­ers.”

But se­cu­rity and coun­tert­er­ror­ism ap­peared to be dom­i­nat­ing voter imag­i­na­tion as the polls opened. Rachel Sheard, a 22-year-old who cast her bal­lot near the site of Satur­day’s at­tack in Lon­don, said the elec­tion had not gone as ex­pected.

“They wanted this elec­tion to be very much a kind of Brexit vote, and I don’t think that’s in the hearts and minds of Lon­don­ers at the minute, [not] nearly as much as the se­cu­rity is,” said Ms. Sheard. “It was very scary on Satur­day.”

As Mrs. May’s lead shrank in the cam­paign’s clos­ing days, she turned to talk­ing up the dan­gers of a La­bor vic­tory, warn­ing that it could re­sult in a “coali­tion of chaos.”

But many in Bri­tain’s mid­dle had con­cerns about Mrs. May, whose lead­er­ship im­age was un­der­cut when Mr. Cor­byn held his own in 90 min­utes of ques­tion­ing last week dur­ing their only head-to-head de­bate.

Ex­pec­ta­tions for Mr. Cor­byn, 68, had been rock-bot­tom when the cam­paign be­gan. An old-line left­ist who, for ex­am­ple, gushed over Fidel Cas­tro on the day the long­time Cuban dic­ta­tor died, Mr. Cor­byn was sad­dled with the im­age of a weak leader who couldn’t even com­mand the sup­port of many fel­low La­bor mem­bers in Par­lia­ment.

But his pro­pos­als to re­na­tion­al­ize Bri­tain’s ag­ing rail net­work and scrap univer­sity tu­ition fees have won him ku­dos among the so­cial­ist party’s base.

Mr. Cor­byn has hinted that he might seek an al­liance with the Scot­tish Na­tional Party, which is push­ing for an­other in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum for Scot­land even though 55 per­cent of Scot­tish vot­ers opted to re­main in the United King­dom just three years ago.

TURN­ING OUT: Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May was ac­com­pa­nied by her hus­band, Philip, as she cast her bal­lot Thurs­day in Maiden­head, Eng­land.

Elec­tion staff sorted mail-in votes on Thurs­day. The at­tempt by Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May to in­crease the Con­ser­va­tive ma­jor­ity in Par­lia­ment ap­pears to have back­fired af­ter she sought more lever­age in Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions.

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