Theresa May called a snap election and deliberately made it a referendum on herself. In fact, it was the most presidential campaign we have ever had in the UK, as not only was the national Conservative campaign focused on the figure of May, but even local candidates were told to campaign as ‘Theresa May’s candidate’. One might be forgiven for thinking this akin to an act of corporate takeover by an unscrupulous salesman.
In this, we see one of the seeds of her downfall. ‘Theresa May’s team’ gave little scope for anyone disaffected with the Prime Minister, and by the end of the campaign, this was too many people. Labour party’s dual approach – forced on them by internal strife – with the national campaign led by Jeremy Corbyn and local candidates asking for votes in spite of Corybn paradoxically worked in their favour and helped maximise the Labour vote.
There can be little doubt that May must now wish she never asked the electorate; the conduct of the campaign ensures that the verdict was delivered on her alone. Losing the first Conservative majority in a generation now looks worse than a misfortune – it looks like carelessness. Even arrogance. To carry on as if nothing has happened borders on the farcical.
In three years all political expectations have been proved wrong. The Conservatives shocked us all by getting a majority in 2015, rather than having to form another coalition with the support of the Liberal Democrats. Similarly, almost no one believed for a second that Britain would leave the European Union – although credit is due to George Osborne who always opposed the idea because he thought it was possible. And the surprise of the century: Jeremy Corbyn winning the leadership of the Labour Party as long ago as autumn 2015. Beyond these shores, the comedy of a Trump Presidency has vanished into a nightmare. What will come next?
Yes, it was not all bad news. The Conservatives have substantially increased their vote in this election, and (as already written on this site) their Scottish results were excellent, but in England and Wales, this failed to translate into seats thanks to the Labour Party’s recovery. Traditionally in warfare, the side left in possession of the battlefield was the victor, but there have been exceptions. The Duke of Marlborough at Malplaquet held the field but suffered so many casualties to the French that it was almost a defeat. Like Marlborough, the Conservatives may still be in government, but it is Corbyn who has put in the better performance. Simply put, Labour swept the field in persuasiveness and enthusiasm.
Amongst these scenes of disappointment and chaos, I register a great disappointment that David Cameron is no longer in Parliament. His broad experience and intelligence are greatly missed, besides his credentials as the only Conservative leader to win a majority in a generation. May was too quick to abandon everything he built and the direction of the party. Cameron may have got the public mood during the EU referendum wrong, but it turns out that he understood the country better than she does. Had he remained in Parliament he would almost certainly now be returning to Downing Street as Prime Minister. A calm and reassuring presence amid the storm. He is our lost leader.
Written by a Conservative activist in the North West of England.