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May’s Election Gamble Seems to Be Backfiring

Theresa May’s election gambledoes not seem to be paying off:

Theresa May risks being ousted from Downing Street after a shock new poll suggests Labour could be on course to cut her majority down to just two seats.

The YouGov poll for the Times found that the Conservatives are on 43%, just five points ahead of Labour on 38%.

At the start of the election campaign, some polls had the Tories with leads of more than 20 points.

When May called a snap election last month, it seemed almost impossible that her party would lose seats. The prime minister assumed, and most observers agreed, that she was positioned to increase the Tory majority in the House of Commons by dozens of seats. There was talk of a landslide on par with the largest Thatcher and Blair victories. It was taken for granted that Labour was on track for the worst drubbing in modern history. While I thought there was a real danger that calling an election would backfire on May, especially when she had repeatedly said there would be no early election, I still didn’t guess that it would blow up in her face as spectacularly as it seems to have done.

If there are no large Tory gains next month, the decision to call the election will go down as another unforced error by a Conservative leader. Because the opposition has generally been perceived to be so hopeless, a failure to beat them by a wide margin is likely to be seen as a serious rebuke to May’s leadership. If there is a reduced majority, May’s authority will be shot. In the still unlikely event that her party is voted out, she will become the biggest joke of a Conservative leader since, well, David Cameron.

Thus far, the election campaign has helped improve the favorability ratings of both Labour and Jeremy Corbyn and has had the opposite effect on May and the Conservatives. An election that almost everyone thought to be in the bag now seems to be slipping out of May’s grasp. Fraser Nelson wonders if May and the Tories will blow it. May has been dogged lately by a series of sudden reversals, including the original decision to call the election after swearing she wouldn’t:

The public like her style, but her shambolic U-turn over the so-called ‘dementia tax’ has given everyone cause to doubt whether she is as ‘strong and stable’ as she says she is. In fact, she can look indecisive and a bit dozy. She repeatedly promised us that she would not hold a general election, but then did. She made National Insurance increases the cornerstone of her first Budget, only to abandon the idea days later when she worked out that it violated her manifesto pledge. And she made the abolition of the cap on care home fees the single most significant announcement of her manifesto launch, then abandoned that as well when working out that critics would lampoon it as a ‘dementia tax’.

For his part, Rod Liddle dubs the Conservative campaign to be the worst general election effort on their part that he can recall. As he puts it:

I don’t think anything quite matches up to this combination of prize gaffes and the robotic incantation of platitudinous idiocies.

Liddle goes on to say that it is the decision to have an early election that could be a significant factor in turning people against the governing party:

First, the election was not wanted and is deeply resented beyond the Westminster bubble. The only people who actually enjoy elections are journos and the politically active: that leaves 97 per cent of the population who are somewhat averse, especially after a bruising referendum last year. May is resented for having foisted the election upon us, and people may be inclined to punish her for it, either by staying at home or voting against.

I thought that might be the reaction, and it wouldn’t surprise me if that is what is happening now. As I said last month:

May’s decision to call for a new election is the act of a supremely confident (possibly overconfident) leader, but if there’s one thing she ought to have learned from her predecessor it is that voters have an odd habit of not cooperating with a politician’s plans.

That there is now even slightly serious talk of a possible Corbyn victory shows how mistaken May was to gamble on an early election. Her party may still be in power after the vote, but her authority will likely be weakened and her judgment will be called into question.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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