THERESA May is perfectly within her rights, as both the incumbent Prime Minister, and leader of the largest Parliamentary party, to attempt to form a minority government this weekend after losing her overall majority.
Yet this is about the extent of the Tory leader’s personal mandate as she forges a pact with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party after spending the entire campaign warning about a ‘coalition of chaos’ if she did not win sufficient support.
However, Mrs May is this diminished because she presided over a truly uninspiring campaign and the electorate chose, in its collective wisdom, not to entrust a single party with the levers of power.
So much for ‘strong and stable’. After an unexpectedly high turnout added further legitimacy to the outcome, they will expect Britain’s leaders – whether it be Mrs May for the time being or her opponents – to work together to unite the country ahead of Brexit talks in 10 days time.
As such, it was remiss of the Prime Minister not to even acknowledge the deep divisions in society when she addressed the nation on the steps of 10 Downing Street. Instead she talked about her desire to provide certainty, when the legacy of this election – one Mrs May did not have to call – is prolonged uncertainty.
This lack of contrition grated. Though she did promise to spend the next five years building a country in which no one, or no community, is left behind, she would have won plaudits for saying that she had listened to the people’s anger.
Yet, typically, this was clearly the last remnants of the speech that Mrs May had expected to deliver following a landslide win which she, and her clearly inept aides, had taken for granted. Yet talk of a five-year government, when there’s no clear cut mandate for the country to leave the single market as part of the PM’s Brexit strategy, is, frankly, fanciful.
It’s difficult to see how the Prime Minister will be taken more seriously by her EU counterparts. It’s even more difficult to see how the new Government will be able to implement the Queen’s Speech when it is set out on Monday week. After all, the promised crackdown on Islamist extremists, though welcome, contradicts Mrs May’s own record as Home Secretary. And, in further evidence of the difficulties that lie ahead, the Tories and DUP have contrary positions when it comes to the so-called pensions ‘triple lock’ and gay rights to cite two examples.
It won’t be easy. And while this ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement, a feature of the Lib-Lab pact in the late 1970s, is marginally preferable to Mr Corbyn attempting to form a progressive alliance of his own, it could marginalise regions like Yorkshire still further.
The reason is this. The DUP will, understandably, want policies of their own to be honoured in return – they were, after all, part of the Stormont power-sharing administration which remains in abeyance because of Northern Ireland’s protracted political deadlock. It’s another bad omen. Yet, with Mrs May having no room for manoeuvre, her newly-elected MPs in Scotland will not be backward in seeking favours of their own in order to kill off the threat of independence.
However, given that Theresa May launched her manifesto in Yorkshire and spent so much time campaigning here, she owes it to this region to prioritise the Northern Powerhouse and devolution agendas, assuming, of course, she’s given a chance to do so. For, in an echo of the incendiary charge that Norman Lamont levelled against John Major, she finds herself in office, but not in power.
IT would be churlish not to acknowledge the effectiveness of Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity crusade. A proven campaigner in contrast to Theresa May, his clarity of purpose struck a chord in many parts of the country, it galvanised students and younger people and the above-average turnout added to the result’s legitimacy.
Yet a vindicated Mr Corbyn would be wise to heed the wisdom of Labour grandee David Blunkett. Accepting that his party’s performance had exceeded expectations, the former home secretary challenged his leader to go a step further.
He urged Mr Corbyn to use his new-found authority to unite the Parliamentary party, which was badly split before the election, while conducting himself as a statesman who is prepared to work with others to advance his agenda in a constructive manner.
It’s advice that should be heeded. Prior to the election, the management of the Opposition was shambolic. Now the party’s new-found supporters will expect better. And though Mr Corbyn was not asked to form a government, the call could still come. These are febrile times. And if not now, there’s now the tantalising possibility of a second election.