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May has cheek to claim ‘strong and stable leadership’

by Luke Lythgoe | 25.04.2017

Theresa May has promised “strong and stable leadership” if voters let her keep her job on June 8. The alternative, she claims, is a “coalition of chaos”.

But chaos reigns now, and it has been caused largely by the Tories’ Brexit policies and persistent infighting. May’s combative approach to negotiations with Brussels, and the still very real threat of a destructive “no deal” outcome, suggests another five years under the Conservatives could be just as chaotic.

A Pandora’s referendum

It is worth remembering that the public didn’t particularly care for an EU referendum. In April 2015, Ipsos Mori found Europe ranked 10th in a list of important issues and even migration only managed fourth place, after the NHS, the economy and education. Fast forward two years after months of inflammatory political debate dominated by two opposing wings of the Tory party, and Ipsos Mori now finds Europe to be the top public concern.

Former prime minister David Cameron argued last month that the vote was important because the issue “had been poisoning British politics for years”. He was right if he meant it had been poisoning his party. The Conservative referendum pledge was little more than an attempt to placate eurosceptic Tories and prevent Ukip snatching blue seats.

Is it fair to blame May for the actions of her predecessor? Perhaps not. A “reluctant remainer”, May offered an interesting take on the EU debate, but her lack of visibility during the campaign put her in the same category as Jeremy Corbyn. Their absence from view contributed to creating a vacuum which two Old Etonians were allowed to fill with scary economic projections and equally scary yarn about immigration.

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The stormy seas of government

The result of Cameron’s miscalculation has been turmoil. Economic turmoil of a devalued pound, inflation outstripping wages, and warnings of lost jobs. Social turmoil of a country divided. Political turmoil leading to the collapse of one government,  a snap election, the threat of another Scottish referendum, and political stalemate in Northern Ireland.

And foreign policy turmoil as May buddies up to an unpredictable US president (who might not be that keen to do a trade deal after all) and may face a bumpy ride from a prospective new europhile French president.

Lurching towards Brexit

May’s current approach to Brexit foreshadows yet more chaos. The thick red lines she has drawn around her negotiating stance put her at direct odds with Brussels and the chances of crashing out without a deal remain high. May might compromise, but those Brexit backbenchers and the right-wing press won’t disappear – even if she wins a big majority.

The PM remains hawkish over migration, refusing to drop a “tens of thousands” net migration target – an unrealistic goal as such a drastic fall in EU migrants would spell disaster for several industries. Moreover, introducing work visas would gum up the economy with bureaucracy at a time the Home Office is already struggling to deal with millions of EU citizens already lawfully resident in the UK.

Then there is the Great Repeal Bill, a mammoth legislative task which promises to swallow up government’s energies  at the expense of almost everything else. There is growing public concern about issues like NHS waiting times, inner-city knife crime, school class sizes, a chronic and growing housing shortage, and air quality, but government bandwidth left over to tackle these issues will be in short supply.

May is fighting this election on fears of a chaotic opposition. Voters have already seen the chaos the Conservatives are able to deliver, and the direction May offers them doesn’t look any less turbulent.

Edited by Geert Linnebank