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PETER WICKHAM: May’s big step


PETER WICKHAM

PETER WICKHAM: May’s big step

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POLITICOS ACROSS EUROPE were stunned two weeks ago when British Prime Minister Theresa May suddenly announced a snap election one morning after a Cabinet meeting. This was a surprising move largely because it was the one action that she ruled out in repeated statements that assured an election was not necessary and would be a distraction from their Brexit negotiations. 

In addition to her anti-election stance, the fact that the United Kingdom recently passed “fixed-term” legislation meant that the prime minister no longer had the power to call an election but would instead need to rely on the support of two-thirds of Parliament.

Despite these hurdles, May’s desire to proceed to the polls easily prevailed and the substantive issue therefore becomes the logic of her decision and the likelihood she will retain the job after June 8. Before proceeding to these issues, I need first to speak to a social media post in this regard, which displayed the type of gender insensitivity that I have continually condemned.

In suggesting that this bold decision demonstrated that May did have the “cojones” I always felt she lacked, I was implicitly associating leadership with masculinity which is in retrospect, highly improper and caught the attention of other commentators who have encouraged a re-think. I am now inclined to agree with Trinidad Express columnist Colin Robinson that what May displayed was instead “Ovarian Fortitude” which carries equal political significance.

May’s decision appears to have been influenced by several factors not least of which is her belief that she will win easily. Ironically, her announcement came two days after one of the leading papers published a public opinion poll which showed that she was the most popular leader in the UK since the 1970s and would easily beat labour leader Jeremy Corbyn if an election were called.

Her call was therefore a vote of confidence in the same pollsters who have been heavily criticised recently; however, the numbers are really very encouraging. May polled 61 per cent compared to Corbyn’s 23 per cent which makes her more comfortable than several of her Conservative and Labour predecessors.

This also speaks volumes about the pollster’s approach to assessing the leaders, which is a conversation that also took place in Barbados around the turn of the century. At that time, CADRES relied exclusively on the competitive approach which rendered a result which perhaps said more about David Thompson’s lack of popularity than Owen Arthur’s genuine popularity.

In this regard, the same thing appears to be happening since I continue to argue that May has not demonstrated leadership that is significantly better than several of her predecessors like Tony Blair or Margaret Thatcher. Her numbers are, however, superior to theirs because she is competing against Corbyn who quite frankly has been a political disaster and one hopes that this election will give Labour the opportunity to dispense with him and start preparing afresh for the 2023 election.

Had May continued her current trajectory, her election would have been due in 2020 which is just around the time that the Brexit negotiation would have been concluded and one presumes that her stocks would have been considerably less attractive. One also presumes that the intervening years would have given Labour sufficient time to come to its senses and she would have faced a more formidable Labour leader in that election which will now not happen.

This approach has therefore conveyed a unique political opportunity for May to capitalise on her momentary popularity (along with the unpopularity of her opponent) to take control of Number 10 for five full years replete with her own mandate to govern for three years after the Brexit which would hopefully give her time to mitigate any fallout from what will still be a challenging negotiation.

May has also demonstrated considerable political wisdom by presenting the election partially as an appeal for a mandate to negotiate the Brexit, which demonstrates her understanding of this complex political concept and its importance to her success as a leader who faces daunting challenges. She fully understands that public opinion in the UK is not solidly behind the Brexit and will likely be even less supportive when the consequences of British actions begin to unravel.

May would naturally be the recipient of voter hostility, although she never supported the Brexit in the first place. This election; however, changes things since she has placed the Brexit front and centre and is seeking a mandate in this regard. Her victory would therefore mean that she has a strong mandate to proceed out of the EU, when in reality the victory only means that British voters are rejecting the worst leader that Labour has produced in some time.

Peter W. Wickham is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES). Email: [email protected]

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