On April 18, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May called for a snap election to be held yesterday. The contest put all 650 seats in the House of Commons up for grabs three years ahead of schedule. May’s move came as a surprise since she had, on at least seven previous occasions, vowed to do no such thing. Yet the logic of the decision was undeniable; polls showed May’s Conservative party with a 21-point lead over its main rival, the Labour party. It was recipe for a landslide that would give May more leeway to negotiate as she entered Brexit talks with the European Union.
Plus, May herself was popular, having stepped into Britain’s post-Brexit leadership vacuum as an unflappable—if unflamboyant—leader. She seemed so unassailable that “Theresa May’s Team” overshadowed Conservative party branding on some campaign signage.
Against that backdrop, May called the snap election. And, well, the election snapped back—in spectacular fashion.
After May set the election in motion, her party’s comfortable lead dwindled, and last night it failed to maintain its majority, leading a hung Parliament.
The outcome is due—in part—to May’s own uninspired campaign style. She appeared uncomfortable when talking with voters and came off as robotic for repeating her “strong and stable” tagline as if it were a mantra. She was also a no-show at a televised debate, which prompted a giant chicken to accompany her on some campaign stops.
Her biggest misstep came when the Conservatives introduced a new approach to caring for the elderly. It was immediately dubbed the “dementia tax” because it seemed to disadvantage patients with long-term illnesses that require years of care. The backlash was so intense that May walked back the proposal, which, subsequently, sparked accusations of flip-flopping.
All the while, Britain endured three deadly terrorist attacks in as many months. Those tragedies, rather than prompting voters to rally around May, ignited close scrutiny of her record as home secretary. She held the job for six years before becoming prime minister in July, and oversaw a reduction in police forces, including armed officers, during that time.
At the very least, the election outcome has weakened May’s grip on power 10 days before Brexit talks with the EU are scheduled to start. She has pledged to press on. But opponents say she should resign and pay the ultimate political price for her stunning miscalculation.
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