Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

UK Elections Caught up Between May’s Wager on Landslide Win, Corbyn’s Rising Popularity | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, speaks at a campaign event in Reading, May 31, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

London – Six weeks ago, British Prime Minister Theresa May surprised the UK political scene by announcing out-of-cycle general elections. Her decision comes after repeatedly rejecting the idea of allowing a third British prime minister change in the short time of three years.

May said that a vote would deliver a more united Parliament and strengthen UK’s negotiating stance with Brussels for exiting the European Union– opposition from lawmakers threatened to jeopardize the government’s plans for Brexit.

Conservatives were looking forward at a 20-percentage-point lead against the opposition Labour Party, May’s win was almost a guaranteed landslide, however, the last few weeks have changed the status quo.

The move on announcing elections that would secure stronger parliament support on EU divorce talks made even more sense with polls revealing May’s leadership popularity outstripping that of Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair.

Nonetheless, Tories have seen an upsetting setback in support after the Labour Party presented its left-wing agenda amid intensified controversy hovering over May’s proposed health care project for seniors, and her unwelcomed absence from broadcast public debates.

A plunge in support and ongoing developments stirred doubts on May actually losing the bet she made in April 2016.

Britons head to polls in a few days for the second time since 2015. Scheduled for June 8 each of the 650 parliamentary constituencies will elect one Member of Parliament (MP) to the House of Commons, the lower house of Parliament.

Unlike traditional general elections, British people now are voting on an additional category aside from economics, health and education — the ballots will be deciding UK’s program for EU exit talks, which are set to change the future of the country for generations to come.

The Brexit Runner

Polls show that a healthy Tory majority has been on the cards long enough to support May’s win in the upcoming elections.

The Voter-May dynamic proved promisingly positive during the first period the prime minister’s time in office, Britons believe that she had struck a balance between committing to implementing Brexit –which the British voted yes for- and protecting UK economic, political and social interests by maintaining a close relationship with European neighbors on the other hand.

May argues only she can provide the “strong and stable” leadership needed to secure a satisfactory exit from the European Union.

After changing her stance on EU membership, May gained considerable support within her party base. But this support itself served as a weak point challenging the validity of May’s leadership.

Critics, whether in among party comrades or opposition ranks, argued that May is not eligible to lead exit negotiations with Brussels given the circumstances that surrounded her rise to power.

Opponents hinted that the 60-year-old did not secure premiership through general elections, meaning she lacked a popular mandate.

Stakes and Pitfalls

In an effort to quell speculation and solidify her position, May decided to fight in early elections approved by a two-thirds majority in a 522 to 13 vote in the House of Commons on 19 April 2017. Little did the conservative party leader know that this democratic process would put her popularity and campaigning skills to the test.

Undeniably, May’s election campaign had to overcome several stumbling blocks in the conservative camp.

May had sparked wild controversy by introducing a party program that compromises on social welfare for the elderly—before, May was also criticized for cuts effecting the police and public services government since 2010, which were partly blamed for the deadly terrorist attack on Manchester that harvested the lives of 22 people.

All the more, May’s confident campaign struggled when Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused the prime minister of shying away from confrontation, after she had openly refused to partake in a debate last week on BBC with other political officials.

Commenting on recent polls predicting a sharp drop in the number of Tory seats, Conservative candidate for Mitcham and Morden, Alicia Kearns told Asharq Al-Awsat she does not trust polls in Britain. A view that was seconded by Angela Rayner, British Labour politician and the shadow education secretary.

Stressing that the public must not begin to falter its national duty to vote, Kearns added that elections are won in the streets, cafes, gatherings and at the workplace. She also urged constituencies to vote and persuade their friends to hit the ballots in order to escape mess entailed by a coalition government.

A recipe for indecision and stalemate, a coalition government is a cabinet of a parliamentary government in which multiple political parties cooperate, reducing the dominance of any one party.

The Corbyn Factor

Party upsets were not the sole reason behind May’s loss of a smashing victory and confusing expectations, the sudden rise of Jeremy Corbyn, hardline leftist and Labour leader played a significant role in turning tables.

Also tipping the balance was a surprising registration of some 3 million additional voters among which are a dashing million millennials.

Put together, Corbyn’s increasing popularity and an additional mass number of voters have successfully managed to blur out the image on election turnout drawn by polls, analysts and politicians.

After losing elections for the second run in a row, the Labour Party shifted more and more towards the left—Corbyn had hence been able to gather enough support to rise up to the competition and lead the party on a new path.

The party’s parliamentary bloc was split by the Corbin campaign to bring it back to its socialist roots, nevertheless, with Corbyn’s campaign displaying strong fondness of socialist roots and moving away from its centre-left position supported by former Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Labour Party lawmakers headed straight on for a crippling split.

Corbyn was clearly abandoning the Labour Party’s pro-business pro-government track.

Despite that, Corbin succeeded in attracting thousands of new supporters, mostly young people who are enthusiastic about his leftist platform.

A source at the Corbyn campaign told Reuters that momentum behind the Labour Party leader had been building ever since election broadcasting regulations, which ensure party leaders get airtime, came into force a month ago.