Will May resign? Are we set for another election? What’s all this about a coalition with the DUP?
Unsurprisingly, after the result of Thursday’s election there are many questions in people’s minds. The Tories failed to win a majority with Theresa May’s party losing 12 seats. So what happens now, and can the Conservatives put together a government that will actually get things done?
First things first, the election which took place this week was one which Theresa May didn’t have to call. Her search for a larger majority massively backfired, and under normal circumstances she would have certainly resigned. However, these aren’t normal circumstances.
To begin with, there’s Brexit, and the fact that negotiations will begin in just over a week’s time. Britain needs a leader to represent us, and May is the only person who can, at the moment, do that. Then, there’s the practical aspect. Although, the Tories lost seats, they are still, by far, the largest party. 12 seats isn’t actually many to lose, and it’s extremely rare for the incumbent Prime Minister to increase their majority. Putting aside whether or not May should have resigned, it’s clear from her (admittedly limited) remarks from the past few days that she has not intention of doing so yet.
The most likely scenario will be that she continues as Prime Minister for the foreseeable future. If she was going to step down, she would have done so already, however, this will definitely not be a long-term arrangement. May will remain Prime Minister until one of two things happen. One, Brexit negotiations are completed in early 2019 and Britain has left the EU. Then, May will probably resign and her replacement could call another early election (depending on how well the country is doing in the polls). Or, perhaps a more likely scenario, the deal with the DUP falls through and the government are unable to get anything done. Then May will have to call another election in an attempt to regain a majority, however, it will almost certainly not be her who leads the Conservative party into it.
At the moment, the Tories have no appetite for a leadership contest. However, if, as I think will happen, in the coming months the alliance with the DUP begins to disintegrate the Conservatives will likely rally round a potential candidate to replace May. Then she will resign and another election could be held shortly after.
So who could replace her? If the Tories were holding a leadership election, I’d say Boris Johnson, Amber Rudd, David Davis and Andrea Leadsom would all likely stand. You could throw Sajid Javid and Liam Fox into the fray as well. However, I strongly, strongly doubt that the Tories would choose someone who campaigned for Remain in the referendum again, meaning the Rudd and Javid’s campaigns wouldn’t get off the ground.
This leaves Johnson, Davis and Leadsom. I would think that the first two of these people would certainly stand, whereas Leadsom running again (as she did in 2016) is perhaps a little less likely. If the Tories just rallied round one candidate and didn’t hold a leadership election, it would probably either be Johnson or Davis. The former is extremely popular in the Conservative party, Davis less so. On a side note, I don’t think either have the appeal from the British public to win an election, which is why I list the more personable Leadsom here as well.
But what about the DUP? How big an obstacle will they be to the government’s plans? Potentially not too big, as they agree with the Tories in many areas. However, they will probably demand a price for their support (dropping certain laws, proposing new ones, more funding for Northern Ireland, a harder line towards the Nationalists etc.) which is why I can’t see the deal lasting. Then there’s the fact that they oppose abortion and gay marriage, and are climate change sceptics, which is likely to land May’s government in hot water.
In the short-term, May will soon finalise her Cabinet, in time for its first meeting on Monday. She has already re-appointed Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, as well as Rudd, Davis, Johnson and Chancellor Philip Hammond. The latter two were reportedly in line for sackings had May lost the election but with her position weakened she apparently wants to keep her allies close. Ian Duncan Smith and Michael Gove could enter the fray again too, as May will want a ‘unity’ Cabinet with lots of Brexiteers.
So what does this mean for Brexit? Many are saying that hard Brexit is dead, but I don’t agree with this. Although May probably faces a tough battle to get it through Parliament, all her likely successors are Brexiteers and I think remaining in the single market is unlikely. However, opposition from the backbenches and Jeremy Corbyn wanting to make her life difficult may lead to the calling of an election shortly before the Brexit process is complete, in order to have a larger majority which can ratify the deal.
One thing is for certain, though. Whilst it seemed before the election was called (or even afterwards given the Tory landslide that we expected) that the country had some stability after Brexit, that certainly isn’t the case now. Another election, battles over Brexit, and political turmoil over Northern Ireland; politics is about to get even more interesting.