Political lessons not learned

Theresa May
Theresa May.
British Prime Minister Theresa May is holding on to power with the slimmest of margins and, if predictions from her own MPs are to be believed, she is categorised as a "dead woman walking".

Mrs May has literally snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by calling an early election, seeking a stronger mandate to trigger a hard exit from the European Union — Brexit.

Instead, she witnessed a resurgent Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn, a man previously so reviled in his own party he had to win two leadership challenges and watch as some of his MPs resigned before the election in the "secure knowledge" Labour was doomed.

Politicians, polls and media outlets wrote off Mr Corbyn and Labour. Even former Labour prime minister Tony Blair was going to dust off his credentials and re-enter politics to save Labour. How wrong they all were. Mr Corbyn is on the cusp of victory and Mrs May is likely to struggle to survive as leader of her minority Government.

History tells many wonderful tales, and one of the stories from Conservative Party history Mrs May should have perhaps learned before going early to the polls was about former Tory prime minister Ted Heath.

Mrs May had no need to call an early election; she was secure for another two or so years. Political wisdom warns against prime ministers calling early elections, in part because of Mr Heath in 1974.

Mr Heath had a reputation for  buckling under pressure and making U-turns in policy, a strategy echoed by Mrs May in 2017. Faced with a miners’ strike, Mr Heath decided to strengthen his mandate, although already having a working majority of more than 40. He called an early election, asking the question "Who governs Britain?" so he could take on the unions. Like Mrs May, he also wanted to take on the EU.

However, both Mr Heath and now Mrs May found out the election was not about unions or the EU but about the economy, public services and the usual issues of health and education.

Mr Heath won the popular vote but Labour won more seats, although only enough for a minority government. The Conservatives tried to cobble together a deal with the resurgent Liberal Democrats, and in the end, the two parties allowed Labour to get its Budget through.

Mr Corbyn and his very clever campaign architect John McDonnell have time on their side. First, no party has won this election outright and both major parties now have the right to put their policies and ideas before Parliament. Labour did not win an overall majority but neither did the Tories, and the millions who voted for Labour want a voice in determining the future of the country.

Both Messrs Corbyn and McDonnell are of an age to remember 1974 and will be preparing for the next steps which are likely to include Mrs May failing to get a major policy passed and/or being replaced by MPs angry about  losing so many of their colleagues.

The final step will be another election later this year.

Already Mrs May has been forced to sack key advisers. One of her challengers, Michael Gove, has been reappointed to Cabinet and the other challenger Boris Johnson, instead of being sacked as expected, retains his Foreign Ministry role.

This is a complete shambles for a woman who staked so much on the result of an early election. Her power as Prime Minister and party leader has been eroded.

There are lessons in British political history of parties coming second in the Commons ending up forming a minority government.

The Tories based their election campaign on fear — fear of immigrants, fear of EU influence in the courts and, selfishly, fear of losing control. The electorate rejected the fear politics and looked for a new approach. There is no appetite for more austerity or a hard exit from the EU in Britain. A rethink has been forced by millions of voters. 


Predominantly, an energised youth vote. It could happen here.

'Dead woman walking'? The Conservatives are the most ruthless party in Europe, but I don't think the UK has capital punishment.