Posts Tagged ‘Theresa May’

The Guardian view on Theresa May’s farewell speech: she threw away her shot | Editorial

The prime minister had the opportunity to tell her party some hard truths about the Brexit choices it is making, and she missed it

British culture reserves affection for failure if it is heroic, or even dogged, and in that spirit it is possible that history will not be as unkind to Theresa May as politics has been. The prime minister’s tenure in Downing Street ends next week with few policy accomplishments to her name and the single most important task – Brexit – messily incomplete.

There is no evidence that the nation thinks warmly of her, although there is respect for her tenacity, stamina and probity. It is easy to find critics of her judgment, but no one thinks she has been venal. Critics who think her principles were the wrong ones acknowledge at least the aspiration to be principled. The contrast with her successor could hardly be starker.

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Brexit: Hammond says it’s ‘terrifying’ that top Boris Johnson ally thinks no-deal won’t harm economy – live news

Rolling coverage of the day’s political developments as they happen, including Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn at PMQs and May’s speech on the state of politics

Here is the Labour MP David Lammy on Jacob Rees-Mogg’s Telegraph article about a no-deal Brexit. (See 10.29am.)

Jacob Rees-Mogg again conflating "our economy" with his investment firm "Somerset Capital." Maybe you are in for a huge personal “boost” if we crash out with no-deal, but all of our constituents will suffer terribly. pic.twitter.com/cpePdcySLb

The Tory MP Jonathan Djanogly goes next?

Q: Would you put the chances of a no-deal Brexit at one million to one (Boris Johnson’s figure)?

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The Brexit Prime Minister? Assessing Theresa May’s legacy

Theresa May’s premiership exacerbated the political divides behind the ongoing breakdown of the Conservative-Labour duopoly of the party system, write Christopher Byrne (Leeds Beckett), Nick Randall (Newcastle University) and Kevin Theakston (University of Leeds).

The political obituaries that followed Theresa May’s decision to step down as Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative party were not kind. The Timesassessment was that her premiership had become a ‘humiliating failure… that was largely her own fault.’ ITV, reflecting the view of most other media outlets, described a legacy ‘defined by Brexit chaos.’ Private Eye went one better, leaving their front page blank except for the headline, ‘The Prime Minister’s Legacy in Full.’

One way of explaining the ‘Brexit chaos’ of the past several years is to ascribe it to May’s failings as a political leader. This is not hard to do. Her detractors will point to her poor handling of the Brexit negotiations and her fateful decision to hold a snap general election in June of 2017 as her two major missteps. They might ascribe difficulties in the Brexit process to the fact that May, who campaigned for Remain in the EU referendum, felt the need, largely for internal party management reasons, at the beginning of her premiership to burnish her Brexit credentials by adopting a ‘hard Brexit’ stance. To this end, she ruled out customs union and single market membership, and a continuing role for the European Court of Justice in British law, while also continuing to insist on ‘bespoke’ arrangements for the UK to ensure something like the economic status quo with the EU would continue.

Such ‘ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking’, as well as the under-resourcing of the civil service for the Brexit negotiations, was castigated by Sir Ivan Rogers, former UK ambassador to the EU, in his leaked resignation email in January of 2017. Similarly, we might pin the blame for the 2017 general election calamity on Theresa May’s dire public communication abilities and her lack of political vision.

May’s reluctance to meet ordinary members of the public during the campaign, combined with her robotic repetition of the Conservatives’ ‘Strong and Stable’ mantra, and her obstinacy in the aftermath of the ‘Dementia Tax’ U-turn (‘Nothing has changed!’), earned her the epithet of the ‘Maybot’, and she explicitly disavowed the existence of anything like ‘Mayism’ well before the general election. It is also true that these two failures fed into each other, in that losing the general election made the Brexit negotiations much more difficult, primarily because the government could no longer guarantee that any deal reached with the EU would be able to get through Parliament.

This critique is fair, but it overlooks the fact that Theresa May also occupied an unenviable position in political time. We argued in this blog in 2017 that her predecessor David Cameron became Prime Minister at a moment when the existing political regime — what we might call the neoliberal consensus — was deeply enervated. This was most clearly reflected in the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath, in the form of the recession that followed immediately after and the next decade of slow wage growth and public spending austerity.

Compounding these difficulties were the growing threat of Scottish independence and the emergence of Ukip as a major electoral force on the right. Cameron — the self-styled ‘heir to Blair’ — was affiliated to this highly vulnerable political regime and was, therefore, a disjunctive political leader, unable to repudiate the indefensible and forced to defend the dysfunctional. When Theresa May replaced Cameron in the wake of the referendum result, it was under the same conditions of political disjunction.

In one crucial respect, May had an even tougher task than Cameron. The vote for Brexit not only represented a failure of Conservative statecraft, it was also in many respects a rejection of the prevailing political order. Support for Leave mirrored past support for UKIP, in that both did well among voters with no qualifications, older age groups, and in midlands and northern constituencies, and among people who wished to ‘Take back control’ of immigration.

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, it was incumbent upon her to tackle some of the grievances underlying the vote for Brexit, but the mandate she had been given was an unwelcome one, because it meant pursuing a policy with which she did not agree and thought would do serious damage to the UK economy, including in the same ‘left behind’ areas that voted for Brexit. Furthermore, the magnitude of Brexit as a process, necessitating major machinery of government changes and tortuous international negotiations over an indefinite number of years, inevitably monopolised the media and parliamentary agenda and stretched Whitehall’s governing capacity, making it difficult for May to focus on other important challenges.

Perhaps an even clearer illustration of the difficulties caused by May’s position in political time is the 2017 general election, in which she was expected to cruise to victory over a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn with an abysmal net favourability rating of -42 at the start of the campaign. May hoped to achieve a substantially increased Conservative majority, ostensibly to strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations. Up until just a few weeks prior to election-day the Conservatives were 14-to-1 odds-on favourites to win a majority, but in the event Labour made significant gains and the Conservatives lost their small majority and were only able to continue in office after putting together a ‘confidence and supply’ deal with the DUP.

Although it is probably fair to say that May performed poorly in the campaign, and Labour avoided any major mishaps, the real reason for the upset was that the Conservatives’ offer to the electorate represented a spectacular misreading of the political moment. The message of the manifesto and of the campaign more broadly was one of continuity, at a time when there was a growing public appetite for change. The Conservative strategy was to capitalise on May’s then-high favourability ratings by running a highly personalised campaign, with her at the fore as a ‘safe pair of hands’ capable of delivering Brexit.

Voters had other ideas though: despite research showing that the public thought Brexit was the single most important issue facing the country at the time of the general election, 2017 was not the ‘Brexit election’. There was no significant swing towards anti-Brexit parties capable of accounting for the loss of Conservative seats. Instead, 2017 reflected Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘reconstructive’ appeal among a new cosmopolitan coalition of younger, more diverse and more educated voters with liberal social attitudes, mainly living in urban areas plugged into the global economy. The Conservative manifesto, with its focus on ‘Governing from the mainstream’, had very little to say to these people and, especially, to the public sector workers in their ninth year of austerity, younger people unable to afford to buy a home, and people grappling with the reality of low pay and highly precarious work in the ‘gig economy’.

What does all of this mean for assessments of Theresa May’s legacy? Most assessments thus far have overly personalized the ‘Brexit chaos’ and neglected the challenging context in which May operated, given her place in political time. However, her failings as a political leader have also undoubtedly contributed to the chaos and show how bad things can get when an already tricky political situation is mishandled. Therefore, perhaps May’s real legacy is to have exacerbated the political divides behind the ongoing breakdown of the Conservative-Labour duopoly of the party system.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor the LSE. It draws on the authors’ forthcoming book with Palgrave ‘Disjunctive Prime Ministerial Leadership in British Politics: From Baldwin to Brexit’ (expected early 2020). It appeared first on LSE British Politics and PolicyFeatured image credit“Brexit talks on the verge of crucial new stage as Theresa May falters” by Tiocfaidh ár lá 1916 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Christopher Byrne is a Lecturer in Politics in the School of Social Sciences at Leeds Beckett University.

Nick Randall is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology at Newcastle University.

Kevin Theakston is a Professor in the School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds.

Boris Johnson says tax cuts bring in revenue. But we now know that’s a myth | Polly Toynbee

The Tory leadership candidate is fond of citing the Laffer curve theory – yet it’s no more credible than a magic money tree

This time next week the tumbril calls for Theresa May, that removal van freighted with symbolism. Boris Johnson will kiss hands the next day, not elected by us, not with our consent, no “one nation” unifier but leader of a dysfunctional, disunited kingdom. He will get the usual goodwill poll bounce: May and Gordon Brown had theirs. Skipping spring-heeled across the Downing Street threshold, full of vacuous optimism and “let the sun shine in” self-intoxication, he may bring smiles to the faces of admirers.

His honeymoon will barely pass a hundred days before he hits the Brexit wall

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Kim Darroch saga ‘is part of assault on civil service’

Unions and senior civil servants say officials have been subjected to sustained attacks from across political spectrum

The “shameful” treatment of Britain’s ousted ambassador to the US marks the culmination of a long-running campaign to abuse and scapegoat government officials, senior civil servants warn today.

They say that Sir Kim Darroch’s resignation last week was the latest episode in a “wider culture of abusing civil servants which has been allowed to develop over the last few years”.

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Boris Johnson admits to mistakes in handling of Kim Darroch affair

Tory frontrunner says former US envoy confirmed TV debate was a factor in his resignation

Boris Johnson belatedly admitted to failures in his handling of the leaked cables issue that led to the resignation of a British diplomat as he came under intense political pressure on Friday.

In a tense interview on the BBC, the would-be prime minister acknowledged that his refusal to explicitly back Sir Kim Darroch, the UK’s outgoing ambassador to Washington, amid a diplomatic row had been a factor in the envoy’s decision to step down. But he insisted that his remarks had been misrepresented to Darroch.

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The accidental populists: why May and Corbyn ended up being isolated and unpopular

The fact that Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are now less popular than Nigel Farage is in large part the result of their attempt to lead the heterogeneous movements they inherited, writes Ben Margulies.

The Conservative and Labour parties are seeing an alarming fall in support. Thanks to the prolonged denouement of the Brexit crisis, both parties have bled up to half of their 2017 support base. A great deal has been written about why they have come to this pass, and for the most part the cause seems to be Brexit: the two parties are being torn apart because their voters cannot agree on the cultural and economic questions posed by globalisation. Others would say that the Conservatives and Labour are falling prey to the superior competitiveness of ‘populists’. In an age when economic crisis, scandal, and the disintegration of mass parties have left political elites estranged from their electorates, no politician or party can easily prosper against the powerful appeal to anger and frustration made my populist leaders.

But this divide between ‘elite’ and ‘populist’, or ‘establishment’ and ‘outsider’ is not clean cut. The Conservative and Labour leaders have adopted extensive elements of populist framing, discourse and styles. Theresa May has raged against Parliament and the opposition; Jeremy Corbyn against the press, civil service, and the ‘elites’. What features mark out this populism? Why is it different? And why hasn’t it worked for its practitioners?

Firstly, populism can mean a ‘thin-centred ideology’ or political style, both of which will usually cast political conflict as a battle between a ‘good’ people and a ‘bad’ elite. The goal of politics is to make real the will of the people, which is portrayed as united and singular. Courts, bureaucracies or the mass media are seen as dubious at best, generally because elites staff them and they contain the popular will. Populists tend to discount the idea of a loyal opposition. Finally, many – but not all – theorists of populism focus on the need for a leader to represent and embody the people, usually through charismatic authority.

Jeremy Corbyn has long been associated with a sort of left populism, one which sees the people and elite as differentiated on economic grounds. Watts and Bale describe how Corbyn used populist framing in intra-party competition within the Labour Party. Although  Dean and Maiguashca challenge this depiction of Corbyn as a populist, the dynamics of his relationship with the Labour membership, Parliamentary Labour Party, and the mass media suggest that Corbynism involves at least some populist features, namely appeals to ‘the people’, anti-elitism, a reliance on a direct electoral mandate for a superior sort of legitimacy, and a strong identification of the underlying political project with the person of the leader.

Theresa May, on the other hand, sometimes delivers a sort of right-wing, authoritarian populism. May claimed a mandate to deliver Brexit, and to this end she has often demonstrated an impatience with those institutions that might block this expression of the popular will. May’s government initially resisted any suggestion that Parliament’s consent was necessary to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty; in 2017, she called a snap election, complaining that Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP would vote against Brexit:

The country is coming together but Westminster is not. In recent weeks Labour have threatened to vote against the final agreement we reach with the European Union, the Liberal Democrats have said they want to grind the business of government to a standstill, the SNP say they will vote against the legislation that formally repeals Britain’s membership of the European Union and unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way. … they underestimate our determination to get the job done and I am not prepared to let them endanger the security of millions of working people across the country because what they are doing jeopardises the work we must do to prepare for Brexit at home and it weakens the Government’s negotiating position in Europe. If we do not hold a General Election now their political gameplaying will continue and the negotiations with the European Union will reach their most difficult stage in the run-up to the next scheduled election.

In a single passage, May identified her cause with a morally righteous people, declared that people unified, condemned elites, and declared opposition illegitimate. Later, she would repeat her anti-parliamentary rhetoric during the battles over her ill-fated withdrawal deal in the spring of 2019.

So if May and Corbyn are both adept at using populist ideas and framing, why are they no longer enjoying the success that other populists – such as Nigel Farage, winner of the last two European Parliament elections – have enjoyed? To begin with, as leaders of the two dominant parties, Corbyn and May have different benchmarks for success – typically, a parliamentary majority on at least 35% of the popular vote. Very few populist parties elsewhere in Western Europe can reach those levels of support.

A deeper reason for May’s and Corbyn’s struggles has to do with the nature of populist leadership. Populists do not just inherit peoples. Rather, they tend to create them, using their rhetoric and persona in order to construct a certain idea of ‘the people’, and to gather together the like-minded under their banner. Donald Trump has done this to a great degree in the United States, convoking a Trumpian base which is distinct from, if not too dissimilar from, the Republican Party’s base. Other populists accomplish this by founding their own parties.

Corbyn and May, on the other hand, became the figureheads of populist sentiments and constructs after the fact. Corbyn did not call forth his base in the Labour membership; left-wing and dissatisfied voters identified him as a maverick and rallied accordingly. May did not create the right populist project that she tried to head; rather, Brexit did, and May simply became leader of the most convenient institutional expression of that social formation. Some have stressed that populist movements can start without a leader, but what the British case seems to be telling us is that adopting a leader a posteriori risks picking one who cannot read ‘the people’, or change tactics when the people’s identity or concerns alter.

The end result is that neither May nor Corbyn possesses the performative, communicative, and analytical skills necessary to be classic populist leaders. They do not control the definition and image of their peoples. They cannot necessarily incarnate them in the way a leader is expected to in many forms of populism – they cannot be the mirror image of their people. Nor have they imposed that image of ‘the people’ on the overall voter coalitions of their establishment parties, which predate their arrival.

And they seem unable to change their political messaging to fit new contexts. Corbyn is unable to provide a Brexit project that unites ‘his people’, because he did not create them. Rafael Behr stated that Corbyn was the chief liability of the Corbynist project – significantly, he added that Corbyn is unable to bridge the gap between his public image and his policies and tactics. May similarly took over a mandate she had not expected and tried to appeal to millions of UKIP voters through the performance of a right-wing, authoritarian populism built around the kernel of a hard Brexit. Between a lack of natural charisma and the strategic impossibility of enacting a hard Brexit without the risk of serious economic damage, her attempt to instantiate a sort of English nationalist subject failed.

Corbyn and May were never classic populists, and their leaderships never fully conformed to most definitions of populist tactics, style or political outlook. Nevertheless, both incorporated aspects of the populist style into their political practice. Still, they did not create their own populist movements – rather, they relied on populist tactics to deal with new political entities they could not adequately understand, embody or manage. The result has been increasing political isolation and failure, and perhaps a lesson for mainstream politicians wishing to join the populist bandwagon.

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About the Author

Ben Margulies is Lecturer at the University of Brighton.

 

 

 

All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay (Public Domain).

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