May’s political career is over, her authority destroyed

Analysis: Jeremy Corbyn, once derided, secures extra seats on a left-wing manifesto

British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said it was time for Prime Minister Theresa May to stand down after election results indicated she had lost the support and the confidence of voters. Video: Reuters

 

Theresa May’s disastrous gamble on an early election has left her country without an effective government nine days before the start of the United Kingdom’s Brexit negotiations with the European Union.

Her political career is over, her authority as prime minister destroyed, and it can be only a matter of time before she steps down.

The prime minister was the alpha and the omega of the Conservative campaign, which emblazoned her name in huge lettering on its posters and buses. And she chose the terrain on which the battle should be fought, doubling down on a hard Brexit in the hope of winning over Ukip voters and pro-Brexit Labour supporters.

If May must bear the blame for her party’s defeat, Jeremy Corbyn can claim the credit for a remarkable result for the Labour Party, which confounded expectations by gaining seats and vote share.

Derided by most of his own MPs, Corbyn campaigned on a left-wing manifesto, promising more money for public services, higher taxes for the rich and the renationalisation of water and the railways.

He inspired young voters to turn out in greater numbers than in any recent election, helping to save the seats and boost the majorities of some of his harshest critics in Labour’s parliamentary party.

Labour will not have the numbers to form a government in alliance with other opposition parties, but Corbyn’s position as leader is more secure than it has been since he was first elected.

Although her party blames her for the catastrophe, May will be under pressure to stay on as prime minister to form a government, probably with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party’s 10 new MPs.

May won the Conservative leadership without a contest, so the party may be keen to test her successor in a leadership race.

May called the election with the aim of winning an enhanced mandate for her approach to Brexit, which means leaving the single market, the customs union and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

The electorate has rejected that offer, but the result does not illuminate a clear alternative.

The Liberal Democrats, who made their opposition to Brexit the central message of their campaign, gained some seats but lost others, including that of Nick Clegg, their former leader and, in the party’s coalition with the Conservatives under David Cameron from 2010 to 2015, the UK’s former deputy prime minister.

The Scottish National Party had a bad night, losing almost 20 seats, including those of its deputy leader, Angus Robertson, and its former leader Alex Salmond. And the anti-Brexit SDLP were wiped out by Sinn Féin, whose abstentionist policy means there will be no nationalist MPs at Westminster.

The Conservatives almost certainly face a leadership election, which is likely to be followed by a second general election, perhaps before the end of this year. In the meantime the article-50 clock ticks inexorably towards the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, at the end of March 2019.

As the UK faces months of political uncertainty the challenge of finding a Brexit deal that is mutually beneficial to it and to the EU is more formidable than ever.

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