Theresa May’s election victory no longer certain

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas, Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood, Interior Minister Amber Rudd, UKIP leader Paul Nuttall, SNP deputy leader Angus Robertson and moderator Mishal Husain attend the BBC’s live televised general election debate in Cambridge, Britain, May 31, 2017. Jeff Overs/BBC Handout via REUTERS

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
June 3, 2017

Six weeks ago, when Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election, it seemed a foregone conclusion this was simply a formality to boost her parliamentary majority and strengthen her hand in negotiating Brexit from the European Union.

Not any more. The smell in the air now is that May and her Conservative Party will, at best, lose seats in the June 8 election. They might be pushed into a minority and depend for survival on deals with minor parties. There are even pundits and analysts musing that Jeremy Corbyn, the much-derided leader of the main opposition Labour Party, could end up the Prime Minister leading a minority government.

Pollsters are being properly cautious after a series of dramatic misreadings of electorates in recent years – including Britain’s Brexit referendum last June on leaving the EU, and the eruption of Donald Trump in the United States. But, for what they are worth, the polls in Britain are showing that May’s 20-point lead at the start of the campaign has dwindled to almost nothing.

An Ipsos MORI poll published on Friday shows the Conservatives with 45 per cent support, Labour with 40 per cent, and the Liberal Democrats, the perennial bridesmaid of British politics, with only 7 per cent. The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), whose eating away at Conservative Party support over the EU membership issue pushed former Prime Minister David Cameron to gamble and lose on the referendum last June, has disappeared without trace.

With variations of a point or two here and there, all the other polls paint a similar picture – May is set to lose seats and might be forced into minority.

More compelling than the polls, however, in suggesting a Tory comeuppance is the drama of the campaign itself. Or rather, the astonishing lack of drama.

Given the closeness of the referendum result last year, with only 52 voting in favour of leaving the EU and 48 per cent wanting to remain, this election was widely expected to be a rerun of Brexit, especially as May was not herself in favour of quitting the union.

That hasn’t happened. The principal reason is that May herself has shied away from making the central issue of the campaign a demand for the electorate to give her a clear and strong mandate in the two-year dealing with Brussels over the details of the divorce. She has merely made repeated and increasingly hollow calls for support for “strong and stable leadership.”

May’s reluctance to brandish Brexit is because most Brexit supporters, including the most voluble elements in her Tory party, consider the 2016 referendum the final democratic word on the matter. Also, many who voted to remain have come around to at least acquiesce to Brexit, lulled, perhaps, by the failure of the British economy to immediately implode, as banking and commercial interests predicted.

Corbyn and the Labour Party have been equally hesitant to grasp the Brexit nettle. The party opposed leaving the EU, and is uncomfortably aware that over much of the country it was traditional Labour supporters, feeling themselves, like Donald Trump’s Appalachian coal miners, the victims of immigration and free trade, who assured the Brexit victory.

Corbyn, the unreconstructed 1960s socialist, has thus been free to play the role in which he feels most at home. He has been stomping the country and ranting to increasingly large rallies about the iniquities of Conservative austerity policies, and the bounty that a Labour government would heap on Britain’s struggling social services. Corbyn also performed well in the televised TV debate this week. May did herself no good by boycotting the debate and sending her Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, as a surrogate.

Corbyn comes across less and less like the unelectable loony lefty of his media caricature. This will dismay centrist members of the Labour Party, especially in the parliamentary caucus. They had hoped that a disastrous election result would allow them to get rid of Corbyn, who was foisted on them through the rabid democracy of an on-line ballot of grass roots party members.

However, there is an undertow in the tide that appears to be flowing in Corbyn’s direction. His growing support is primarily among the young. The Economist magazine has reported that Labour’s support among young voters has risen from an average of 43 per cent when the election was called in April to 57 per cent now. The problem for Corbyn is that younger voters are far less likely to actually go to the polls than are their parents’ generation. And among older, dedicated voters Labour’s support has grown by only four points to 19 per cent.

Theresa May is one of those unfortunate politicians whom voters admire and respect from a distance, but who suffers on close inspection. There was a sense of relief that the country was in safe hands when she became Conservative leader and Prime Minister by default last summer. Cameron resigned government and party leadership after his Brexit defeat, and then the candidates to succeed him managed to knife each other in the back. May was the last person standing.

Until her unexpected announcement in April, she had been dead set against calling an election, even though she had no clear mandate either as Tory party leader or Prime Minister. What caused her to change her mind and call the snap election is still a matter of debate. The most widely accepted explanation is that the double-digit Conservative lead in the polls and the apparent unelectability of Corbyn at the head of a widely divided Labour Party offered a strategic opportunity.

She may believe it would be useful to have the clear backing of the British people heading into brutal negotiations with the EU. Brussels is making it abundantly clear that it intends to make Brexit as painful and expensive as possible. Britain will be the first of the EU’s 28 members to quit, and Brussels wants to show other countries that might be thinking of heading for the exit that it would be a nasty and agonising experience.

However, May and her political advisers appear to have deluded themselves into thinking the snap election campaign would be a walk in the park with victory, probably with an even larger parliamentary majority, as the inevitable outcome. Perhaps for that reason they didn’t put much effort into planning a proper campaign or producing a convincing manifesto.

The platform is long on rhetoric and short on specific proposals. And early on in the campaign one specific plan proved disastrous. A proposed program would have made the elderly pay for care in their own homes if they had assets worth more than the equivalent of $174,000. As Britain has experienced the same relentless surge in real estate prices as elsewhere, this raised the prospect that the average elderly Briton would have to sell their homes to pay for their care. The Labour Party pounced, called the move a “dementia tax,” and the Conservatives swiftly withdrew the proposal.

This incident served to arouse the suspicion that always lurks near the surface among many British voters that the Tories are the “nasty party.” It didn’t help that, on closer inspection, May’s managerial competence came bundled with a personality that appears detached, cold and aloof. Like Margaret Thatcher, with whom she is often compared, May’s public persona lacks warmth. But May also lacks passion, and no one could ever accuse Maggie Thatcher of that.

In politics the plot lines of the individual players is always entertaining, but in this case there is the far more important question of what effect an inconclusive election result will have on the Brexit negotiations. Britain had a weak hand from the start, and all the likely outcomes of Thursday’s election will make it worse.

More than that, events elsewhere are compounding London’s feebleness. Immediately after the vote for Brexit there was much confident bluster that the EU couldn’t afford not to sign a post-exit free trade agreement with Britain. That is now off the table. Brussels and EU leaders have been explicit that talks on a new trade deal can’t start until after Britain has left in two years or so, and that London can’t expect to have as open a relationship with Europe as it has now.

Also, post-Brexit there was cheery waving across the Atlantic and enthusiastic predictions of a revived age of Anglo-American partnership. Well, the swift collapse of the Trump regime into dysfunction and the prospects of prolonged political malaise in the U.S. has cooled that ardour.

There is added pungency to the bad smell about U.S. links in reports that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has chalked up former UKIP leader Nigel Farage as a “person of interest” in the inquiry into the links between Russia and the Trump campaign. Farage has a strong personal relationship with Trump and both men are outspoken admirers of Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin. What seems to have put Farage in the FBI’s frame is his contacts with Wikileaks boss Julian Assange, who is holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London. Wikileaks, it will be remembered, was the vehicle for publishing embarrassing emails from the campaign of Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton, emails apparently pilfered by Russian hackers.

At the same time, there has been a significant change in the whole atmosphere around the EU. When Britons went to the referendum polls a year ago its appeared the EU was stumbling towards collapse. The crisis over the common currency, the euro, continued and there seemed no end in sight for the economic turmoil in Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy. Meanwhile, the anti-globalization demagogy – called “populism” – that produced Trump in the U.S. had similar outbreaks in Holland, France, Poland, Hungary and elsewhere in Europe. Those outbreaks have been quelled, at least for the moment, with the defeat of far-right movements in elections in Holland and France. And not only did the French electorate last month defeat Marine Le Pen and her National Front, they produced as President neophyte Emmanuel Macron.

It is early days, but in his first appearances as President, Macron appears vigorous and courageous. This week he publicly called out Putin to his face over Russia’s attempts to manipulate the French elections and its support for chemical weapons attacks on civilians in Syria. Macron has also been up front in his disdain for Trump, and even made televised statements calling on climate scientists and others to come to France, where they will be welcomed, if they find they are unappreciated or sidelined at home in America.

Macron has also planted his flag as a reliable supporter of German Chancellor Angela Merkel in guiding the EU through its problems, and in broader issues like the 2015 Paris accord on combating climate change. For the last few months Merkel has seemed the lonely surviving champion of North Atlantic civic values. No longer.

From seeming to be the Sick Man of the North Atlantic a few months ago, Europe suddenly looks like the future, especially in concert with emerging powers such as China and India.

A few days, leave alone a week, are a long time in politics. So much can happen before British voters go to the polls on Thursday. But at the moment it looks as though the result will be a dispiriting muddle, the very opposite of the bright new dawn the Brexiteers hoped for.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

Contact Jonathan Manthorpe, including for queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

Related stories from F&O’s archives:

Jeremy Corbyn and the economics of the real world. By Richard Murphy Expert Witness

The new leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn makes his inaugural speech at the Queen Elizabeth Centre in central London, September 12, 2015. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

As the creator of what has come to be known as Corbynomics, my ideas on what is now known as People’s Quantitative Easing, progressive taxation, tackling the tax gap and other matters caused quite a stir in Britain’s 2015 Labour leadership race. They are all policies that, in my opinion, are at the core of tackling the austerity narrative.

JEREMY CORBYN: British Labour’s New Leader. By William James and Michael Holden  Profile

Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran left-winger who professes an admiration for Karl Marx, was elected leader of Britain’s opposition Labour party.  “Things can and they will change,” Corbyn, who when he entered the contest was a rank outsider, said in his acceptance speech after taking 59.5 percent of votes cast, winning by a far bigger margin than anyone had envisaged.

Incoming British Prime Minister Theresa May Photo: Chatham House/Creative CommonsTHERESA MAY: Britain’s new prime minister, by Victoria Honeyman Profile

Some newspapers obsessed over Theresa May’s quirky shoe choices, but she also hit headlines with her admission in 2002 that the Conservatives were often seen as the “nasty party”.

Britain’s tortuous road to “hard” Brexit , by Jonathan Manthorpe  Column

It is becoming clearer just how wrenching a process it will be for Britain to leave the European Union, and beyond doubt that Britain is headed for a “hard” Brexit.


Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.


Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Also tagged , , , |

Jeremy Corbyn and the economics of the real world

By Richard Murphy, City University London 
September, 2015

The new leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn makes his inaugural speech at the Queen Elizabeth Centre in central London, September 12, 2015. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

The new leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn makes his inaugural speech at the Queen Elizabeth Centre in central London, September 12, 2015. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

As the creator of what has come to be known as Corbynomics, my ideas on what is now known as People’s Quantitative Easing, progressive taxation, tackling the tax gap and other matters caused quite a stir in the Labour leadership race.

They are all policies that, in my opinion, are at the core of tackling the austerity narrative that has dominated the UK political debate. They are designed to put the country back to work on a fair and level playing field.

It is with this in mind that I am about to start teaching a course entitled Economics of the Real World at City University. I think there is a considerable overlap between the ideas I hope to explore with my students and the reason for Jeremy Corbyn adopting some of my thinking this summer.

I consider myself a political economist. We could argue for some time about where the boundaries between the two disciplines might be, but most can spot it with ease. It is, in my opinion, a sad fact of life that too many macroeconomists now consider research to be focused almost entirely on correcting theoretical aberrations in models of general equilibrium that bear little or no relationship to the real world. As an exercise in theoretical mathematical modelling this process creates academic curiosity, but I have my doubts about what it contributes to the real world.

In the real world of political economy that I wish to explore with my students in due course, there are three big themes.

  1. What economists choose to measure and how useful it is to measure these things.
  2. The way those measures are constructed and what they are intended to communicate.
  3. The role of economists in this process: what is their background or ideology that may influence their behaviour, and what might they have chosen to omit from consideration as a result?

It is my belief that there is no form of measurement, whether economic or (as importantly) in accounting, that is value-free. The choice of what we measure frames the debates we have. And the tools we use and the options they accept or reject are entirely subjective.

For example, to highlight one of my long-running areas of concern, the fact that companies deliberately use complex financial structures to hide 60% or more of their global trade from view in their financial statements (and enjoy tax breaks as a result) is not by chance. It is instead a deliberate decision to present a particular – and so inherently biased – view of globalisation that has had enormous significance for the structure of both trade and finance. To ask why those choices were made is therefore vital if the reason for seeking an alternative perspective, with all the policy implications that follow, is to be properly appraised.

My point is that it is clear that the economist is not an objective observer. His or her decisions necessarily affect the real world: the very act of measurement itself has an impact.

So how does this relate to Jeremy Corbyn? As a newly appointed academic I am all too well aware of the importance of the “impact” of my forthcoming work. What astonishes me, in that case, is how little work by so many UK academics in the fields of economics, accounting and tax has any chance of achieving that impact. It is not, it seems, ever designed to reach out to those who might have the chance to effect change by making use of it.

It is my hope that this is an issue that a new Labour leader might address. If the Labour leadership campaign has proved anything it is that there is need for a change in economic thinking if those policies to be offered in 2020 by all parties – but most especially those on the left – are to resonate with people anxious for change.

What also seems very obvious, is that politics is not, at present, either the source or repository for that thinking. In that case, the chance for meaningful dialogue between academia and Labour does at this moment appear to be high, and with it the prospect of real, impactful, engagement.

That is why I hope a new Labour leader will reach out to academia and positively invite new ideas, research, thinking, dialogue and so policy formulation. Now is the time for this. The politicians and academics involved all have until 2020 to achieve a result. There is a desperate need for an economics of the real world that is quite deliberately intended to change not just measurement, but reality.

Creative Commons

The ConversationRelated on F&O:

JEREMY CORBYN: British Labour’s New Leader, by William James and Michael Holden

Richard Murphy is a Professor of Practice in International Political Economy, City University London.  This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We do not carry advertising or “branded content,” or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Please support us with a contribution, below, of at least .27 per story, or a site pass for $1 per day or $20 per year — and by spreading the word.



Posted in Also tagged , , |