UK election: Theresa May's uphill battle

June 9th, CBC Radio Interview "The Early Edition": Reaction to the UK Election with Oliver Schmidtke  (towards the end of the show)

June 8th, 2017 - by Oliver Schmidtke, Centre for Global Studies, Universities of Victoria

Today, the United Kingdom votes in an election that was meant to be decided before it even began. Prime Minister Theresa May had hoped for a vast majority in order to be able to negotiate the UK’s exit from the European Union from a position of strength. When Theresa May called the elections in April, pollsters gave her a comfortable lead of 21 points over her Labour contender. Predictions suggested that the Tories would receive over 50 per cent of the vote, promising them a majority bigger than the one that Tony Blair obtained in 1997.

Now, however, after a couple of missteps and floundering public support, Theresa May seems to have a veritable challenge at her hands. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has steadily risen in the polls over the past couple of weeks and it might be a competitive election after all. Some polls even put Labour into striking distance to the Tories. This is a remarkable development as the vast majority of the media have considered Corbyn and his Bernie Sanders-like leftist agenda simply as ‘unelectable’. Yet, Corbyn’s anti-austerity campaign promising to invest heavily on public services such as education, health care and transportation has resonated with the public. He has made a passionate plea to combat inequality and income disparities; not by accident the Labour manifesto is entitled: “For the many, not the few”.  Similarly, in the heated debate on migration, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have represented two fundamentally different visions for the future of the UK: while the Tories have promised to limit immigration dramatically (below 100,000 annually), Corbyn has pointed to the UK’s structural skill shortage and the need to treat newcomers fairly.

One decisive factor in shaping the outcome of this election will be the effects of the recent terrorist attacks in Manchester and London. The ensuing public debate on security and anti-terrorist measures has drawn public attention to Theresa May’s controversial record (as home secretary) of reducing the number of police officers by over 20,000 since 2010. Thus, it was no surprise that during the last days of the electoral campaign she has tried hard to re-focus on her key message claiming that she alone would be able to negotiate a favourable Brexit with the EU.