May remains PM but faces tough task ahead

Sunday 11/06/2017
Election blunder. British Prime Minister Theresa May addresses the country from 10 Downing Street, on June 9. (Reuters)

London - After a bruising elec­tion campaign Theresa May remained Britain’s prime minister but with fewer seats in parlia­ment and only with the help of an alliance with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

“What the country needs more than ever is certainty and having secured the largest number of votes and the greatest number of seats in the general election, it is clear that only the Conservative and Unionist Party has the legitimacy and ability to provide that certainty,” May said on June 9.

British voters delivered a hung parliament, reflecting the uncer­tainty that has governed the politi­cal scene since the Brexit vote last June. May ran an indifferent elec­tion campaign and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn made an un­expectedly strong challenge.

The final tally was 318 seats for the Conservatives (down 12), 262 for Labour (up 29), 35 for the Scot­tish National Party (down 21), 12 for the Liberal Democrats (up four), ten for the DUP (up two) and 13 seats shared among the Green Par­ty, Plaid Cymru in Wales and Sinn Féin.

May’s deal with the DUP gives her a narrow parliamentary majority of 328 seats — just a two-seat cushion compared to her previous 17-seat majority, which she deemed insuf­ficient to deliver Brexit.

“This is an election where every single vote counts and every single vote for me and Conservative can­didates will be a vote that strength­ens my hand in the negotiations for Brexit,” May told supporters in Bridgend, Wales, during the first week of campaigning.

It was a message that she repeat­ed throughout the campaign, dis­paraging Corbyn’s leadership and asserting that only she could deliv­er the Brexit demanded by Britain.

“If I lose just six seats, I will lose this election and Jeremy Corbyn will be sitting down to negotiate with Europe,” May tweeted on May 20.

Although May remains prime minister, she is a vastly diminished figure and some Conservative MPs have called for her resignation. Af­ter a campaign that saw her pledge to reverse the fox hunting ban and perform a U-turn over proposed changes to social care, May saw her personal popularity plummet.

Security and counterterrorism were a major focus during the cam­paign after the Manchester and London attacks. Questions were raised about May’s more than six years as home secretary during which she presided over major cuts to Britain’s police and security forces.

Under Conservative Party rules, 15% of MPs — which translates into 48 seats — can trigger a leadership contest by calling for a vote of “no confidence.”

Even if May surmounts any lead­ership challenge, many analysts expect another election to be called before the end of the year, owing to the inherent unsustainability of a minority government.

Conservative former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, who held on to her seat in Loughborough but with a significantly reduced major­ity, said “the buck stops at the top.”

“I think there’s real fury against the campaign… I think she [May] should stay for now but I think she won’t fight another election and I think eventually, whether it takes weeks or months, we will have to look at the leadership,” she told Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

Amid the historic chaos following the June 8 general election, other records were also broken. This will be the most ethnically diverse Brit­ish parliament in history with a re­cord 51 ethnic minority MPs in the new House of Commons, integra­tion think-tank British Future said.

“The 2017 parliament will be the most diverse ever, with ten new ethnic minority MPs taking the to­tal of non-white parliamentarians to 51. Thirty years on, that tells a positive story about integration since the breakthrough election of 1986,” British Future Director Sun­der Katwala said.

Britain also elected a record 201 female MPs, with the previous re­cord of 191 elected in 2015, a num­ber that increased to 196 in by-elec­tions.