by Cinzia Croce
What began as a sure bet is turning out to be a white knuckles experience for the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom. After ruling it out as “self-serving” and sure to lead to uncertainty, Prime Minister Theresa May stunned the British political scene by changing her mind and calling for a snap election. Initially, her surprising move was regarded as brilliant, and Tories rejoiced at the prospect of increasing their majority in Parliament. The main opposition party, Labour, was deeply divided, stuck at historic lows in the polls, and led by Jeremy Corbyn, who was widely viewed as an unacceptable alternative by the chattering classes, including Blairites. All the ingredients were in place for a Tory landslide not seen since the days of Margaret Thatcher — initially, there were even attempts to portray May as the new Maggie. But it seems that Tory political strategists are afflicted by the same lack of imagination as their Republican cousins who try to market every GOP candidate as the new Reagan.
If the Tories believed they had a modern day Thatcher leading their party, they soon learned that they are saddled with their own Hillary Clinton. To be fair, unlike Hillary, who is drenched in the stench of scandal and corruption, there is not a tinge of impropriety about May. Where she draws parallels with Hillary is in her dull, uninspiring campaign: she is a candidate unable to connect with voters and totally lacking a substantive record on which she can run. There are no parallels between May and Thatcher other than sharing the same gender and political party. Thatcher was energetic, passionate, and confident in her views. Above all, Thatcher was able to withstand political heat, while May melts away at the first hint of controversy.
When in March, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced a hike in the UK National Insurance Contributions (NIC), May reversed course within a week. Last month, May reversed again when her proposed “dementia tax” spurred controversy, marking the first time a government backtracked on a manifesto commitment in the midst of a campaign. Her handling of the UK’s relationship with US President Donald Trump also reveals her weakness and inability to handle political heat. After Trump rolled out the red carpet for May and gave her the honor of being the first head of state to visit the newly-inaugurated president, May rewarded the gesture by going out of her way to criticize Trump’s proposed travel ban. Even Justin Trudeau — who doesn’t come across as the brightest bulb on the international scene — had the political instinct to reply that it was not up to him to remark on how the United States chooses to control its borders when questioned about his views on the ban. May instead joined the crowd denouncing Trump as “divisive and wrong” at a time when the UK desperately needs even closer ties with the United States as it prepares to leave the European Union.
Before becoming Prime Minister, May was Home Secretary for six years, in charge of the country’s borders and security — and did not distinguish herself. She repeatedly missed her immigration targets and, as the recent terrorist attacks revealed, she clearly mishandled the threat posed by jihadis. Based on news reports, some of the attackers were known or had been reported to the authorities. One of the London attackers, Khuram Butt, actually appeared in a television documentary titled “The Jihadis Next Door. In the documentary, he was seen bowing in prayer before an ISIS flag unfurled in Regent’s Park for the benefit of the cameras, along with other men. Yet alarm bells did not go off in May’s Home Office or, if they did, they were muffled. May was unable to control the jihadis entering and operating inside the country — but she did make sure Pamela Geller and Michael Savage would never set foot on British soil.
At a time when voters are looking for authenticity, May traveled the country robotically repeating the focus tested line “strong and stable government” while coming across as weak and shaky. The double-digit lead the Tories enjoyed at the beginning of the campaign has evaporated. If May manages to retain her position as Prime Minister it will only be because the alternative facing British voters is to elect Corbyn — who has a history of justifying the actions of terrorists, from the days of the IRA to the recent attacks which he blamed on British foreign policy. More importantly, Corbyn may have handed May a victory by selecting Diane Abbott as Shadow Home Secretary — perhaps the only person in Britain who can make May look competent.