Theresa May and the lost Tory art of statecraft

Consider this situation.

The Conservative Party has been the biggest party in a coalition with the Liberals, and, following a general election, forms a majority government. The following year, the Prime Minister unexpectedly resigns. His anticipated successor is the Foreign Secretary, an old Etonian, who studied Classics at Balliol College, Oxford, but failed to get a first-class degree, and appears over-enthusiastic for the job.   He is beaten by someone who is thought to have a more reliable character. The Labour Party is led by a known pacifist, with an inexperienced and widely mistrusted economic spokesperson. Within a year the Conservative Prime Minister decides to hold a snap general election on a matter of significant economic interest but manages to lose their Party’s overall majority.

The question is what happens next.

The answer may surprise you.

The Prime Minister resigned and the Labour Party formed a minority government.  The Conservative Party was able to watch while the Labour Party struggled along, knowing that it could trigger a vote which would bring the Labour Party down whenever it wished, and force a General Election. Despite the Labour Party passing a very significant Housing Act, it was duly kicked out and the Conservative Party won a large majority at the polls.   The Conservative leader had a further decade at the head of the party.

The first Prime Minister, who won a majority in 1922, is Bonar Law. His successor, in 1923, is Stanley Baldwin. The Balliol classicist he beat to the leadership is Lord Curzon and not Boris Johnson, who, you may have spotted, was not yet Foreign Secretary when the 2017 election took place. The Labour leader is James Ramsay Macdonald and his Chancellor, Philip Snowden.

So, what was Theresa May thinking of when she decided to stay in power in 2017?

By remaining in 10 Downing Street, while managing both the economic failures of the Cameron Government and the probable crisis of Brexit, Theresa May or her successor may face an impossible task in 2022.  It does not matter whether Cameron and Osborn inherited, exacerbated, or created an unbalanced, underproductive and deficit-and-debt-ridden economy, the incumbent Government will be blamed for economic failure, as were John Major in 1997 and Gordon Brown in 2010.

Perhaps, May felt that the momentum was with Jeremy Corbyn, and that, if she gave way to him, it would be he who was swept to power with a large majority in an October General Election.

That is, however, extraordinarily unlikely.  Majority Labour governments have tended to fail even when their manifestos have been tailored to Conservative interests.  Moving any of their policies forward would have so enraged the entrenched interests of neo-liberalism and their supporters in the press that any future election would have been on Tory terms.  Then, there is Brexit.  The Conservative Party would have been able to pin all the failures of Brexit on the Labour Party.  Had Tories been in power, it would argue, Brexit would never have gone wrong.

So, is Theresa May a latter-day Robert Peel putting the interests of the State above that of Party, staying at the helm during choppy seas to steer Britain to safer waters?  Or is she putting herself above the interests of her Party, either because she is deluding herself about her position and her abilities, or because she wants to cling to the top job? Or is she sacrificing herself to enable a future leader to escape the legacy of Brexit failure?

Or is it something else?

Only time will tell, but it appears that the Tory art of statecraft, developed by Lord Salisbury in the 1880s and 1890s, honed by Stanley Baldwin in the 1920s and 1930s, and exploited by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, has deserted the current leadership.

Dr Christopher Stevens is currently the Director of Quality and Standards at the University.  He was previously an ESRC Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, working on post-war grass-roots British Conservatism, and a Lecturer in Politics at the Universities of Teesside and Queen Mary, London.

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It’s not over till the Queen’s speech (and maybe not even then)

Dr Mark Bennister, Reader in Politics at Canterbury Christ Church University and a specialist in political leadership, appeared on the latest edition of the podcast “Discussions in Tunbridge Wells” which is produced by the university’s Applied Psychology programme. This time, the panel talked about the 2017 General Election: called by the Prime Minister in the hope of winning a large majority, but offering a far less clear result. Mark Bennister talks about the campaign, analyses the leaders’ performances and assesses the current situation with a hung Parliament. Furthermore, the podcasts covers how psychological theories may shed some light on how people voted. Last, it discusses populism, rationality, the strong feelings raised on all sides and whether any politician can get elected if they tell us we’ll lose out.

The best way follow the podcast is to subscribe to their feed. You can do this by looking up Discussions in Tunbridge Wells in iTunes, SoundCloud or wherever else you get your podcasts from.

You can also follow the Applied Psychology programme on Twitter @CCCUApppsy and on Facebook facebook.com/cccuappsy

You can follow Angela on Twitter @cyberwhispers, Rachel @rterrypsy and Mark @MarkBennister.

 

Links to things talked about on this show:

Mark is the co-editor of The Leadership Capital Index: A New Approach to Political Leadership

Here is Mark’s piece on Theresa May ‘leaking’ leadership capital.

Links to more material on the CCCU Applied Psychology blog: Discursive of Tunbridge Wells

A student view on the GE2017 result: Canterbury and Whitstable constituency, thank you.

One week after the 2017 UK General Election, our student Liz Bailey offers a commentary on the result in Canterbury and Whitstable from a student’s perspective

Credits: Adam Scotti (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The UK’s First-Past-The-Post system has always made politics seem like a losing battle in Canterbury. This seat is a Conservative safe seat of over 160 years, with the 2015 election producing a 10,000 vote majority to ex-MP and arch-conservative Sir Julian Brazier. From the start of the snap election it seemed like business as usual for non-Conservative voters, put up a fair fight but have a graceful defeat to the Tories. However, this was no ordinary general election. This time it was personal.

Students from all over Canterbury have always had the ability to oust Brazier, but have never had a big enough push to do so. Students would vote in home constituencies or not vote at all. The EU referendum was the first spark in this almighty fire that has led to Brazier’s fall from grace. Young people turned out in record numbers to show their support for the EU nationwide but were brushed aside when the results came out. The Conservatives continued to undermine young people, increasing tuition fees and slashing funds for things we all hold dear like the NHS. Brazier, in particular, being so pro hard Brexit, homophobic and generally an outdated relic began to creep into Canterbury residents’ crosshairs.

Polls had suggested that Canterbury could be a swing seat, but it was too good to be true, right? Never trust the polls, they were wrong about the last election and the referendum. It’s a safe seat, they’re the unsinkable ships that harbour thousands of loyal Tories. But like the RMS Titanic this safe seat had an iceberg. Rosie Duffield. A new Labour candidate who is passionately dedicated to local issues like the Kent & Canterbury Hospital. A fresh-faced, young and energetic politician who rallied support with the young, the old and everyone in-between.

Election day gave way for an uneasy feeling, hope. Hope that just maybe the residents of Canterbury and Whitstable had come together in order to elect a real representative of this constituency. Someone who will listen to people, young and old, rich and poor. Someone who is with the times and supports everyone regardless of sexuality, religion or race. Someone who understands the residents of Canterbury and who will truly and to the best of their ability fight for this city. Nationwide Labour stole seats left and right, and although Labour didn’t win this election (in terms of getting 326 seats) they certainly did not lose it either.

May called this election in the hope that young people would remain complacent in politics. She, without a second thought, disregarded the importance of young people. The Conservatives lost and hope has won. Any result except a Tory landslide would have been a victory for me, but I could have never anticipated the result in Canterbury. I always thought of safe seats as a large dominating force and I was right. What I was wrong about was the ability of progressive people to come together to form an even bigger force and decimate a 10,000 vote majority. For this reason, I thank you, to all of those who voted Labour (either by preference or tactically). I thank those who dedicated hours to campaigning. I thank the young people who said enough is enough. I thank Rosie Duffield for being an amazing candidate. I thank Canterbury and Whitstable constituency for breaking the mould. But above all, I thank Theresa May, who without her disregard for progressive people she would have never called this election. Without her complacency we would have never have had the push we needed to oust Brazier, or see the true impact that we can have on politics.

Liz Bailey is second year undergraduate student in Politics at Canterbury Christ Church University. She currently works as communication manager for the Centre for European Studies (CEFEUS) and as a research assistant for the politics team at CCCU.
She tweets @LizzieBailey96

May limps to power

Connor Dobbs, BA Politics graduate and prospective MSc student at Canterbury Christ Church University, recounts the vote count in Canterbury and examines the consequences of the electoral result for Theresa May and the Conservative party.

Looking back at an astounding electoral night, it is still hard to believe the events which unfolded. The Conservatives, after what can only be describe as a disastrous election campaign, struggled to just 318 seats, with 42% of the vote share. On the 18th April, the snap election was called with the Conservatives sitting on huge poll leads, some predicting majorities north of 100 seats for May. As we all know however, since 2015 (or maybe even before?), polls cannot always be trusted. This was proven at 10pm on 8th June when the exit poll predicted a hung parliament.

Being present at the local count in Westgate Hall, it was clear to see the shock at the exit poll. With so much expectation being on a huge Conservative majority, gasps were heard from Conservatives around the hall, with cheers from opposing party supporters. The feeling really set in that the campaign was bust, and we were about to see some big name MP’s lose their seats.

As results were being called throughout the night, huge names throughout British politics were falling. Angus Robertson and Alex Salmond both fell with Conservatives gaining ground in Scotland. Former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg lost his seat in Sheffield Hallam and Sir Julian Brazier, a long time Conservative MP, lost his seat of Canterbury to Labour, with Amber Rudd and Tim Farron both going to a recount, however just making it.

Labour will understandably be buoyed by the results overnight. Although having a smaller share of the vote, the Labour party picked up 29 seats in comparison to 2015, with the Conservatives losing 12 overall. This increase in popularity for a Corbyn government saw the Labour party eat into conservative heartlands up and down the country, as well as fighting back in Scotland, when it was originally predicted that they would be wiped out completely.

With the election now some days behind us, the reaction from the Conservative camp has been made clear. May, still attempting to stand strong, ceremoniously axed her two Chiefs of Staff, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hall. At the end of the day someone was going to have to take the blame, and it was never going to be May herself.

It is however understandable why she would be unwilling to concede that fault lay with herself. The Crosby-run campaign and image that was being portrayed of Theresa May left the public with some sort of Ice Queen appearance, one which she seemed increasingly uncomfortable with as the campaign ran on.

What happens next?

It’s now down to the nitty gritty side of politics how the Conservatives will  form a government. Their preferred (and seemingly only) line to go down is to rely, in some capacity, on the DUP.

The potential link with the DUP, a party from Northern Ireland with an incredibly sketchy record on same sex marriage and abortion, has left a number of Tory MP’s expressing their disdain for the deal. Leader of the Conservatives in Scotland, Ruth Davidson has spoken to Mrs May regarding assurances on LGBT rights, which May subsequently provided.

As we move further away from the election, a confidence and supply arrangement between the parties seems the more likely; however, it still leaves a number of people worrying whether this is still giving the DUP too much access to key government policy. Tory MP Sarah Wollaston has been quick to defend the deal, while stating that it must not influence social policy. Wollaston has been quoted saying “I will always support the right for women to choose & access safe termination of pregnancy and will oppose any change to the legislation. I will never agree to any dilution of LGBT rights. If any of that is a condition of the confidence and supply it simply won’t work”. Outspoken MPs such as Sarah Wollaston are likely to make the PM wary in regards to the conditions. Considering her slim lead over Labour, the last thing May needs is a backbench revolt.

Although a Conservative minority government is seeming more likely now, the Labour party are still yet to concede. The Queen’s speech, which is due to take place next week, is key – more key than ever. We should expect to see an attempt by Labour, SNP and the Lib Dems as well as other parties to block the Queen’s speech in parliament, which would open up a route for Corbyn to become PM. If this was to become a reality, and it must be made clear that there is a reasonable chance it will, it would surely see the removal of Mrs May as Tory leader and a complete redesign of the party as a whole.

All that is clear for now, however, is that Theresa May is pushing on as normal, with the next week in Westminster looking like an interesting one, and one that is key to the future of Mrs May and the Conservative party.

More Women, Better Politics?

Overall, this election result, which punished the cynicism and hubris of the Conservative Party, reveals mixed results for women as politicians and voters. More women than ever before have been elected to Parliament, including here in Canterbury where our longstanding Conservative incumbent has been narrowly defeated by Rosie Duffield for Labour. While this is good news, especially in an election held on the anniversary of suffragette Emily Davidson’s death 104 years ago, there is still a long way to go. Women only account for one third of MPs and those who are newly elected must brace themselves for the vicious misogynistic attacks, to which more experienced women MPs have sadly become accustomed. Following the murder of Jo Cox last year, many more MPs revealed the burden they face in the onslaught of vile abuse via social media.

Often the mainstream media is little better as the now infamous Daily Mail “Brexit/legs-it” cover image of Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon’s meeting to discuss Brexit reminded us.  We might also consider the sometimes less than subtle sexism in the sustained attacks on May’s robotic approach or Diane Abbotts poor media performances. Boris Johnson’s blustering is rarely called out in the same way. Indeed, when it is, as by Michal Hussein on the Today Programme the day before the election, it is the female reporter who receives the flak.

The other point of concern for feminist politics is the announcement that the DUP have agreed to support a new Conservative government. The DUP do not get a lot of coverage in the UK media beyond the occasional flurry of concern about the functioning of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Arlene Foster’s party holds deeply regressive views on policies such as access to abortion and equal marriage which do not align with general British values. Citizens in Northern Ireland who have demanded that the rights of other UK citizens be extended to them must despair at the thought that the DUP will now hold such a position of influence in Westminster. Equally, women across the whole of the UK, who have been disproportionately affected by the austerity cuts of successive Tory governments, will not feel comforted by the thought of what is to come in this next parliamentary term.

We shall have to wait and see how this latest episode of British political upheaval plays out. However, it is worth remembering that while the increased number of women elected to parliament may be welcomed, it is their voting record which matters, not their gender, nor their fashion choices.

Dr Laura Cashman is Senior Lecturer and Programme Director in Politics and International Relations at Canterbury Christ Church University. Her research focuses among others on minority politics, Romaphobia and populism in the EU, experiences of migrants to the UK. She tweets @lauracashman