THE BLOG

The Days Of May

09/06/2017 14:55
Stefan Wermuth / Reuters

In May 1832 following a series of resignations, elections, and a political transformation unseen in generations, Britain experienced a short but savage period of instability - the notorious 'Days of May'. In June 2017, less than one year after the chaos following the Brexit decision, Theresa May has generated her own short, savage instability which has slashed the Conservatives' majority and which is likely to create Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Theresa May called an unnecessary election in order to strengthen her mandate, avoid domestic political campaigning at the same time as the effects of Brexit begin to be felt in 2020, and wipe out the Labour Party on the assumption that Jeremy Corbyn was unelectable. Far from giving May the 100-seat majority predicted in April, her gamble has backfired spectacularly. Her own position is no longer tenable and it is likely she will resign as Prime Minister in the coming week. May took control of the government in the aftermath of a short, vicious Tory civil war after her predecessor's own gamble also backfired, and this gave her a substantial degree of legitimacy and popularity as the leader who took control of Britain in the chaos of June 2016. The image of Theresa May as a new Margaret Thatcher, a strong and stable leader who could unite the warring parties of post-Scottish independence, post-Coalition, post-Brexit Britain collapsed in a campaign marked by Theresa May's weak and hesitant style. Her refusal to participate in televised debates communicated a sense of contempt for the electorate, her performances on the campaign trail and in television studios showed an uncomfortable and cold Prime Minister, and her over-confidence of victory caused her to flirt with policies targeting the Conservatives' strongest voters - middle-class pensioners. Meanwhile the apparently unelectable Jeremy Corbyn astonished commentators by managing a campaign which survived disastrous media interviews, hostility over defence policy, and continuous questions about Corbyn's previous links to organisations whose motives and actions are, at best, highly questionable.

The campaign showed a marked difference between Corbyn's charisma and May's mediocrity. With his gain of 29 seats - the first Labour gains in twenty years - Corbyn is guaranteed to stay on as Labour leader. The Conservatives need a leader who can match Corbyn's energy, charisma, and passion, all of which were integral in attracting millions of votes to a man who has faced constant criticism since becoming leader. And given the criticism May received for having first supported Remain and then wished for a Hard Brexit, it is only logical that the Conservatives will push for a leader who is not only charismatic and popular, but a Leaver too. There is only one candidate.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is now a distinct probability. Theresa May will form a loose agreement with the Democratic Union Party in Northern Ireland, one which allows the Conservatives to govern as a minority with behind-the-scenes support from the DUP. this will suit both parties. Once this deal has been agreed Theresa May will resign, and soon we will see Boris Johnson leading Britain's negotiations with the EU.

As incumbent Foreign Secretary, Johnson will be able to start Brexit negotiations on a slightly more secure footing than a minority under May would. The clock is ticking and the sheer bureaucratic scale of Brexit requires urgent action. As Prime Minister of a country which is angry at Tory cuts, wary of economic problems after leaving the EU, and now mostly resigned to Brexit (observe the failure of the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats to make a resurgence), Boris Johnson will negotiate a Soft Brexit. His charisma will be useful against a significantly larger Labour opposition headed by a genuinely popular leader, and a Conservative minority government will depend on a skilful and nuanced deal. The Tories' DUP allies will push for a softer deal on Northern Ireland's border with the Republic of Ireland while simultaneously quashing demands that Northern Ireland unite with Ireland, or receive some sort of special status with the EU. The subsequent border deal could then provide a template for a similar deal over Gibraltar. Meanwhile, the annihilation of UKIP and the collapse of the SNP will allow Johnson to focus on a Brexit for the whole of the UK without the constant threat of a more right-wing rival or demands for #indyref2. Thursday's vote is not all bad news.

The Days of May in 1832 ended with a revived, confident political system which gave people a better deal than they had had before. The 'Days of May' in 2017 could result in a less punishing Brexit, a more unified United Kingdom, and a Conservative government which learns that continued harsh austerity would guarantee a crushing Labour victory in 2022. A softer Brexit and a softer government. Rather than a disaster for all, a hung parliament might just be the best solution to our problems.

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