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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > July 2017 > May plummets to victory

May plummets to victory

She clings to power—just. But how did Theresa May squander her majority?

The great disruption

An election campaign is like an X-ray into the soul of a political leader. There is nowhere to hide from the searing media scrutiny and the public gaze. Day by day, a politician’s character, instincts, beliefs and resilience are revealed to the electorate on a million screens. Theresa May was exposed as brittle, passionless and indecisive and she was shown no mercy on 8th June. For all her obsessive attempts to control events, the electoral radiographer found the frailty in her political bones.

The Conservative leader may have won more votes and seats than Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn—and in the aftermath of the result, she appeared set on staying—but personally and politically she was defeated. A leader who called an unnecessary election in order to strengthen her hand in the European Union negotiations has ended up with her authority undermined and her credibility destroyed. The “hard” Brexit for which she sought a mandate was rejected, an extraordinary humiliation for a woman who only a few weeks before polling day was expecting a landslide. After a robotic acceptance speech that showed no regret for the MPs who had lost their seats or acknowledgement of her failings, few in parliament think she can survive for long.

The Tory postmortem has been characteristically brutal. One senior MP told me it was a “catastrophic error of judgment” to base the campaign around May, who is a charisma-free zone. “We are the Conservative Party,” he says. “We are not a cult.” As the results came in, one minister was quick to point the finger of blame at the top. “Everyone hoped that when she became prime minister she would relax and show a bit of personality and she just hasn’t,” he said. Political troops have reason to be loyal to their leader when they believe he or she is more popular than the tribe as a whole. That was May’s position early this year; the campaign has upended it. Now the bulk of MPs regard her as a drag on their collective popularity, and will be in a mutinous mood.

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In Prospect’s July issue: Steve Richards, Rachel Sylvester and Shiv Malik—as well as Chris Hanretty and Julian Glover—cover the fallout from the recent general election. Richards looks at how the assumptions of centrist politics were upended and how Labour managed to stun the nation—a point that Chris Hanretty explores in more detail, explaining how Corbyn turned the tide for social democracy. Sylvester questions how Theresa May managed to squander her majority—Julian Glover says it wasn’t just May’s failure, the ideas were flawed, too. Shiv Malik explores the remarkable surge in the youth vote and says parties can no longer ignore their concerns. Also in this issue: Dexter Dias argues that to understand terrorism we need to better understand human nature, Paul Wallace looks at the state of the state and asks whether the government is capable of fulfilling large scale changes to the way the state works and Sam Tanenhaus profiles Mike Pence—should we be worried about him becoming the next president?
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