Two months ago Theresa May was contemplating an historic landslide with a 100-seat majority. Now she presides over a party that's lost its majority and is maintained in office only through the support of Ulster's Democratic Unionists. For American readers, that's the Reverend Ian Paisley's old party. They can be strong meat for those of delicate dispositions, but in my experience they're not unagreeable at close quarters. The DUP are the only significant socially conservative party in the UK, which puts them at odds with most of today's modish Tory caucus, and they're also pro-Brexit to a degree the squishier types around Mrs May may find discomforting. But, unlike the Conservatives, they had a grand night last Thursday, and they have the numbers, at least in theory, to keep Brexit on track.
I'm inclined to agree with Fraser Nelson's generalization:
Tory leaders tend to be chosen because of who they're not, not who they are: Thatcher wasn't Heath, Major wasn't Heseltine, IDS wasn't Portillo, Cameron wasn't David Davis. And May wasn't anybody.
That's all true. Bonus round: Home wasn't Hailsham. The trouble is that, because May wasn't anybody, there's no consensus on the reasons for her defeat. Nigel Farage says, well, that's what happens when you put a Remainer in charge of a Brexit nation. But the Left says, no, their stunning revival means that this election was a rejection of Brexit. Except that the Left's revival was at least partly due to northern working-class Old Labour voters who'd switched to Ukip in the years before Brexit and then decided on Thursday that, after victory in the referendum, it was safe to return to the Labour fold.
If you're wondering about the electoral impact of the deaths of 29 Britons in two Islamic terror attacks in the remaining days of the campaign, this would traditionally benefit the "law-and-order party", "tough on immigration", etc. Why didn't it? Well, just as the Champs-Ã‰lysÃ©es attack a few days before the French election didn't benefit Marine Le Pen, it may be that fatalistic voters are taking the advice of their leaders and "getting used to it". Or it could be that no one under 35, 40, 50 can now remember back to when incendiary Mohammedans weren't self-detonating hither and yon, and that England was once upon a time a peaceable kingdom whose bridge spans knew not bollards.
Yet even that doesn't fully explain the debacle. Mrs May is so "not anybody" - such a vague amorphous blur - that the Tories wound up outflanked by Labour even on terrorism. That's to say, the Muslim terror issue didn't work for her even when her opponent is an IRA-supporting Commie so in thrall to the Muslim vote that the metastasizing Jew-hate in his ranks has to be covered up and, when it occasionally wiggles free and out into the public and a star candidate is obliged to concede that Jews in the Middle East have a right to "exist", Labour supporters spread rumors that the candidate herself is a secret Jew. Does such a party really seem the guys to turn to if you want to crack down on the chaps who perpetrated Manchester and London Bridge and spent years hiding in plain sight in the Islamo-appeasing environment Labour helped create? Yet Jeremy Corbyn's team somehow contrived to look tough on terror by claiming that all these corpses piling up in English cities were the result of Conservative "cuts" to the police budget.
That they were able to get away with this without everybody laughing their heads off gets to the real nub of the anybody that Theresa's not. Mrs Thatcher did what effective leaders do: she moved the political center toward herself. Mrs May chose to move the political center toward the opposition, with policies designed to seduce soft-leftish sentimentalists. Given that, at the time, the polls showed an electoral landslide extending into every corner of the realm and the conventional wisdom was that the only alternative was an unelectable Marxist kook, one is reminded that my friend John O'Sullivan's First Law of Politics* - that any institution that is not explicitly right-wing becomes over time left-wing - applies to individuals, too. Largely uninterested in the principles of conservatism, Mrs May drifted - and, like most people who drift in today's western world, wound up in the shallows of the mushy left. So she fought the issues within the framing of her opponents. Which is always disastrous.
This phenomenon is so widespread that it extends even to Manchester Arena and London Bridge - which, like the NHS and schools and overseas development aid, are now just something to do with "government cuts" to "funding".
A safe pair of hands who fumbles the easiest ball isn't really much use to anyone. For the moment, the Prime Minister survives - with the support of the sturdy Ulstermen. But, if she's forced into a snap election and there's another homicidal-van attack, Labour will sweep to power claiming that Mrs May failed to follow through on the promised increase in bollard funding.
*[often but falsely attributed to Robert Conquest - so, please, no more Tweets and emails on that point; I've now verified it with the source]
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