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Maybot Malfunction: The PM's Hubristic Decision To Call A Snap Election Has Failed Spectacularly

09/06/2017 09:40 BST | Updated 09/06/2017 13:19 BST
Peter Nicholls / Reuters

This blog is adapted from the Friday 9 May edition of The Waugh Zone, which can be read here, and subscribed to here

"Nothing has changed! Nothing has changed!" In full Maybot malfunction mode, that's what Theresa May famously said during her manifesto meltdown just a few weeks ago. Something's changed alright. And it may well mean Britain's Prime Minister is changed too.

It was 5.52am when it was officially confirmed that the UK now had a hung Parliament (were you up for Southampton Test and Alan Whitehead?), and that May had lost the precious Commons majority that David Cameron had slogged through five years to achieve. Yet just like Cameron's reckless gamble on an EU referendum, May's hubristic decision to call a snap election has failed and failed spectacularly.

The woman whom we were told was the very opposite of a gambler ended up trashing her own brand after listening to the siren voices of her advisers and betting the house on a snap poll. Like Cameron, she was a Remainer who played with Eurosceptic fire and ended up getting badly burned. The cautious pragmatist allowed herself to be portrayed both as a Leave-loving zealot and a flip-flopper.

May was a long way from "strong and stable" at her own count in Maidenhead in the early hours, her voice shaky, her eyes flicking about like a lost rabbit. She said it was "incumbent" on "us" to ensure we have a "period of stability". That sounded very much like her fighting for breathing space, but had a faint hint she could go after a 'period'. Sources close to her insisted since then that she has "no intention" of resigning, but her fate may not be in her hands.

The Tory ministers are privately saying May has to go, some think she should stay only as 'caretaker' PM while a Tory leadership contest takes place. 'Team Theresa' looks dead (manifesto man Ben Gummer lost his seat, Amber Rudd's majority is so tight she can't be leader, policy chief Nick Timothy is seen as a bearded Rasputin whose own radical ideas did as much damage as Corbyn's). George Osborne couldn't hide his glee about the "catastrophic" campaign. Boris Johnson, who may become favourite to take the crown, texted his sister soon after the shock exit poll with the joke 'MayDay!' If she is ousted, May's 330 days in office would be the shortest of any PM since Andrew Bonar Law in 1923.

The fact is that May tried to turn the whole general election into a referendum on herself. She tried asked Ted Heath's question, 'Who governs Britain?' and, just as it did back in 1974, Britain replied 'Not you!' In 43 of the marginal seats which she personally visited, Labour held on to 20, took two from the Tories and one seat from the SNP. The Tories gained just five. Her fear of meeting real voters, her unease with small talk, her 'computer-says-no' refusal to detail her policies or costings, all seem to have caught up with her.

Britons hate being taken for fools and hate being taken for granted even more. Brenda in Bristol started this campaign with "Not another one! I honestly can't stand it" and she seemed to speak for the nation. Brits also seem to mistrust Presidential politics and have reverted to good old-fashioned Parliamentary democracy, voting for parties not just leaders. That is just one of the many lessons of the night.

corbyn

For Jeremy Corbyn, a new day has dawned, has it not? Tony Blair's morning glory in 1997 seems a long, long time ago now, and his party has moved a long way from the one that won that first landslide 20 years ago.

If May was the Hillary Clinton of this election (a terrible campaigner with a sense of entitlement), Corbyn was Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders rolled into one. He had a Trump-like feel for the pain of many voters suffering from globalisation, a dogged defiance of the mainstream media and 'experts' and - most important of all - a message of hope (yes Trump gave rustbelt voters hope, folks). But he also had a Sanders-like mass movement and left-wing policy platform.

Corbyn was ridiculed when he said earlier this week May should resign over police cuts. Yet he's having the last laugh now, repeating that call for her to go at his own count in Islington in the early hours. Armed with a Zen-like calm and a hide thicker than a rhino, he has shown that campaigning actually can make a difference in elections. He just said he's 'ready to serve' as a minority Government PM.

Having promised to 'rewrite the rules' of politics, he's done just that in many ways, not least in partially disproving the theory that elections are decided over years not weeks. Just last month his party was trashed in the local elections. Corbyn should take much of the credit for depriving May of her majority despite being massively outspent by the Conservatives, despite millions of free Tory billboards in the form of daily newspapers, despite all those Facebook attack ads.

Some of Labour's victories over the Tories are truly stunning (Plymouth where the anti-defence card didn't work at all). The party won Canterbury, for crying out loud. In places like Walthamstow, Stella Creasy clocked up 83% of the vote. Many of Corbyn's critics had expected to set out leadership ambitions but people like Yvette Cooper and Chuka Umunna are instead being asked if they will be prepared to join his Shadow Cabinet. Many critics are chewing on their words. Owen Smith said: "He's definitely got something. He beat me fair and square and he's done very well in this election."

And yet for all that, remember that Labour has not won this election. Umunna said Labour was founded more than a century ago not just represent working people but to form a government on their behalf. "It's a big step forward but ultimately we must get into government in the future," he said. Amid all the celebration at whacking May, there may be a realisation that this is another "brilliant defeat" (copyright Blair-supporting Chris Powell after 1992). For now, the focus is on unifying the party. Arch critic John Woodcock said: "The Labour party has always been a broad church and never broader than the moment".