Lacking Thatcher’s Steel, UK’s May now seen as ‘weak and wounded

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metzlerBy John J. Metzler

NEW YORK — It’s political May Day for Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May after what appeared as a massive miscalculation in calling a general election which she narrowly won.

Though the ruling Conservative party gained the largest share of seats and votes in the 650 seat Parliament, the party fell short of a majority, thus causing the “Hung Parliament” in which a coalition must again be formed.

Theresa May’s roll of the political dice to call for early elections were based on her gamble to win a powerful majority strong unified government which was needed in the wake of last year’s still reverberating BREXIT vote for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. BREXIT talks on the UK/EU separation begins in mid-June amid an uneasy instability in London.

Police take part in anti-terrorism exercise in London.
Police take part in anti-terrorism exercise in London.

As May predicted prior to the vote, “Now more than ever, Britain needs a strong and stable government to get the best deal for our country.”

Indeed, but now there’s more confusion both in Britain and throughout the European Union concerning the complicated pattern of EU separation.

Tragically Theresa May’s snap election was shadowed by the specter of terrorism, both the appalling attacks in Manchester and London in which Islamist jihadi terrorists hit soft, civilian targets killing 30. Concerning the terrorists she said, “They are bound together by the single evil ideology of Islamist extremism that preaches hatred, sows division and promotes sectarianism … Defeating this ideology is one of the great challenges of our time.”

The Conservatives won 318 seats but that’s eight seats short of a majority. The Labour Party, which has lurched dangerously leftwards under current leader Jeremy Corbyn gained seats and now has 262, a gain of 31 seats. Labour has posted the most socialist and left wing manifesto since the early 1980’s prompting even many former luminaries such as former Prime Minister Tony Blair to distance himself from the current party. As interestingly the Scottish Nationalists (SNP) saw serious setbacks, ironically from the Conservatives, thus likely sidetracking a second Scottish independence vote.

Theresa May will forge a “Government of Certainty” with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Yet May’s call for a “government of certainty” somehow lacks the ring and the rhetoric of steely Thatcherite resolve or for that matter anything more than a stopgap solution for a very complicated political problem of her own making. She is viewed as “a weak and wounded leader” according to a solid source in London. Her credibility even among the Tories is weakened and recriminations abound.

So what does the Hung Parliament realistically mean for Britain and her standing abroad? Again the albatross of BREXIT talks begins with a shadow over the outcome of the proposed break. Yet while the UK may be formally renegotiating its trade patterns with the continent, Britain has striven for reinvigorated bilateral trade pacts with many key nations European states such as France and Germany as well as with countries such as India.

Yet on the more local level the Party Manifesto still stresses, “The Conservative Party is the party of enterprise and of the entrepreneur. We understand that small businesses are the wellspring of growth. They form a key part of British life.” Indeed the UK has seen strong economic growth with the recent conservative governments.

Yet, May’s conservatives hardly possess the political gravitas of the former Thatcherite party which was far more philosophically wedded to free markets than to wider governmental regulation.

When it comes to NATO and defense the current government will hold to the agreed 2 percent GNP military spending. Interestingly Labour supported this point as well. The government will equally keep its high levels of overseas development aid spending at 0.7 percent making Britain one of the highest foreign aid donors in the world. Britain will remain a strong player in the United Nations.

There’s no question that May will remain close to the USA and shall be a reliable partner in the international arena. That’s the good news.

But will Theresa May’s “Government of Certainty” bring the needed stability and confidence both to markets and to citizens? Sadly, I feel the UK may be facing another election before too long.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]