“A Doe blind in one eye was accustomed to graze as near to the edge of a cliff as she possibly could, in the hope of securing her greater safety. She turned her sound eye towards the land that she might get the earliest tidings of the approach of hunter or hound, and her injured eye towards the sea, from whence she entertained not anticipation of danger. Some boatmen sailing by saw her, and taking a successful aim, mortally wounded her. Yielding up her last breath, she gasped forth this lament: “O wretched creature that I am! To take such precaution against the land, and after all to find this seashore, to which I had come for safety, so much more perilous.”
– Trouble comes from the direction we least expect it
Certainty and predictability have not been common features of elections and referendums over the past year. One only has to look at the triggering of Article 50 and the current occupant of The White House to ascertain that political pundits have lost their powers of divination and that the pollster’s crystal ball has been distinctly cloudy as of late.
The General Election called by Prime Minister May for June 8th will most definitely buck this trend. Barring a disaster, whose unpredictability would be far beyond that of November’s US election, Theresa May is expected to remain in her role as Prime Minister when the final ballots have been counted. In fact, thanks largely in part to the lack of a credible opposition under Jeremy Corbyn, the Conservatives are on course to garner between 40-50% of the vote and increase their current 7 seat margin to around 100 parliamentary seats. The possibility of an election defeat will not be the cause of sleepless nights for Prime Minister May over the next seven weeks. What is unique about this election is the inherent risks involved that could occur far beyond the final ballot paper is counted and not what result those ballot papers actually deliver.
Mrs May’s objective for calling the election is to increase the Conservative Party’s majority and give her a stronger mandate with which to enter into Brexit negotiations with the EU. Theresa May is unlikely to fail in delivering on this objective. However, despite the safety an election victory and an increased margin brings, trouble could rear its ugly head from an unexpected direction.
Firstly, due to its increased majority the Conservative Party might experience a gravitational shift further to the right within the party. Consequently, rather than increasing her mandate, Prime Minister May might find herself even more beholden to pressure from the hard-line Brexiteers within the Tory Party. Mrs May has already had to yield to this pressure in order to secure her place in No.10 in the past, as evidenced by the current appointment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. A gravitational shift further to the right after June 8th will put the Prime Minister in the undesirable position of having to once again heed to these voices in the delicate negotiations with the EU. As a result, the negotiating balancing act she must perform post June 8th would become all the more difficult
Secondly, the heat of the campaign may force the Prime Minister to clarify her Brexit position in more detail than she previously has in the past, thus binding her to a particular position and restricting room for manoeuvring during negotiations. Mrs May famously kept an extremely low profile during the run-up to the referendum. Since being appointed Prime Minister, Mrs May has provided scant details on her negotiating strategy beyond the desire for a “deep and meaningful partnership with the EU”. A General Election forces a debate on the issue and Mrs May might not be able to remain vague on her strategy going further. Not only would this undermine her position going into negotiations with the EU, but could also undermine the unifying affect she has had on both the country and the Conservative Party since the Brexit referendum. A divided Britain and infighting within the Tory Party would not be a welcomed election result for the Prime Minister.
Lastly, there is a risk that a general election might rejuvenate and regenerate an opposition party that has lately been in disarray. Rejuvenation in the run up to June 8th would come via the desire to deny Mrs May the substantial majority she covets. Regeneration post June 8th could come in the form of new leadership and a positional shift within the Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn is an extremely unpopular figure within his own party and only a tiny percentage of the country view him as a viable alternative Prime Minister. Substantial defeat on June 8th is likely to result in the end of his tenure as leader of the Labour Party with more competent leadership replacing him. Mrs May might end up pining for the devil she knew rather than the one she didn’t.
Those who know me well know that I have a soft spot for Theresa May. Given the political dynamic after the referendum, she was the most unifying force to steer the ship once David Cameron had stood down, and her decision to call a snap election last week was a savvy piece of politics that looks to take advantage of the current British political terrain. The June 8th election is special in nature and differs from the 2015 election in its objective, challenges and pitfalls. Let’s hope that unlike Aesop’s fabled Doe, Mrs May hasn’t turned her eye away from the perceived safety of the post June 8th sea, because the sea might end up being more perilous than she first thought. Despite certain victory, certain troubles could be lurking where Mrs May least expects them. The Prime Minister would do well to heed the lesson of Aesop’s Doe in order to avoid a similar downfall and bring about the success that both Britain and the Conservative Party need.