With Leaders Like This, Britain Should Panic
Comment of the Day

June 08 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

With Leaders Like This, Britain Should Panic

Here is the opening of this sadly accurate comment on the UK General Election campaign by Clive Crook for Bloomberg:

The U.K. election has been a contest of inadequates.

At a time when the U.K.'s most pressing need is for competent leadership, it's saddled with two of the most bungling party leaders in living memory. Even a well-run government would struggle to control the short-term damage likely to be inflicted by Brexit. Whatever happens in Thursday's vote, there's no prospect of a well-run government by Friday. On this evidence,  exaggerating how much trouble Britain is in would be hard.

Prime Minister Theresa May called this snap election -- after suspending a law requiring fixed-term parliaments -- because she was sure of a huge win. She had every reason to think so. Jeremy Corbyn is an unreconstructed old-school leftist and every Tory's dream of a Labour Party leader. His own parliamentarians wanted to ditch him but were overruled by the party's wider membership. May duly started with an immense lead. Over the succeeding weeks, Corbyn's shambles of a Labour Party came much of the way back.

Why? Bizarrely, Brexit has almost nothing to do with it. Labour isn't challenging the referendum result, partly because so many of its own supporters want out of the European Union; and its position on how to manage Brexit is as vague as the Tories'.

Labour's remarkable traction during the campaign also wasn't because Corbyn came up with a compelling election manifesto and sold it pretty well. Quite the opposite: Content and marketing were fully as bad as the Tories could have wished. Nationalize this, nationalize that, make higher education free, pour resources into every kind of public service, and no we aren't quite sure what all of this will cost.

David Fuller's view

Unfortunately, I agree with this assessment.  The UK may manage to just avoid a General Election disaster at this critical time, although not because of any improvement by Theresa May. She is now less popular with most voters but has a small chance of clinging on if the exit polls are too pessimistic. Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign momentum ground to a halt in the last few days, helped by a tragifarce role from Diane Abbott.    

What does this mean for the Tory government?

While there is no doubt that Theresa May’s election strategy is a failure, given her massive lead at the start, Labour’s latest turmoil has partially reversed the decline in Tory support over the last few days. Lord Ashcroft’s current poll, conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday, suggests a Tory majority in the 75 to 125 seat range. However, that is almost certainly way too optimistic, given the exit poll estimate, although that itself is not always a reliable indicator.

Nevertheless, anything less than a strong victory will have weakened the PM within her own party. In fact, if she has lost her previous majority in Parliament, or even increased it by only a few seats, she will have little choice but to resign on Friday.   

Corbyn has not won the election but he is in a stronger position, having done far better than expected with young voters. Unlike the Tories, this will remove the threat of an immediate leadership contest. Nevertheless, support for Corbyn among Labour Party MPs remains tenuous.  

Late note: While a hung Parliament obviously creates uncertainty for the UK stock market, it is far from a disaster for shares, provided Labour is unable to form a coalition government. Tories can form a government, albeit a weak one, and this would pose less of a near-term risk for the City than a hard Brexit. Shares in Germany and other stronger EU countries will continue to benefit as breakup fears subside.  

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