The UK snap election was PM Theresa May's Waterloo
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It is said that those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. This seems to be all too true of Theresa May, the hapless British prime minister. Without any real reason, she took a big gamble by calling a snap election three years ahead of schedule. Then, she managed to make every mistake in the book in fighting that election. In the process, she blew what had appeared to have been an impregnable lead in the polls for her Conservative Party over the opposition Labor Party.

 The net result of her bungling is that she likely lost her job and her party’s parliamentary majority. She will also have plunged the country into a prolonged period of political turmoil that it can ill afford on the very eve of the United Kingdom’s all-important Brexit negotiations.

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There was no reason for Theresa May to have called this election so soon after the last general election in May 2015. Over the past year, she herself acknowledged this point on several occasions before finally reversing herself in April by calling the snap election. The life of the current parliament was only due to expire in 2020 and her Conservative Party enjoyed a workable majority in parliament. Had the next election occurred on schedule, it would have occurred after a Brexit deal had been wrapped up.

 

The justification that May advanced for calling this election was related to the upcoming Brexit negotiations with the country’s European partners. Following the March 2017 triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which marked the start of the two-year period within which the Brexit negotiations have to be completed, May claimed that she needed a strong mandate from the country’s electorate for those negotiations.

The more likely reason for her having called those elections was that she sought to take advantage of what she perceived to be the disarray in the opposition Labor Party under the leadership of the supposedly unpopular Jeremy Corbyn. She calculated that the opposition party’s seeming disarray offered her the golden opportunity to substantially increase her Conservative Party’s parliamentary majority for the period through 2022.

It turned out that it was Mrs. May rather than Jeremy Corbyn who came across to the electorate as a wooden campaigner out of touch with the electorate’s mood. It hardly helped her cause that she had to make an embarrassing U-turn on a proposed “dementia” tax on the elderly that somehow made its way into the Conservative Party’s electoral manifesto.

It also did not help matters that terrorist attacks in London and Manchester raised serious questions about her competence during her six-year tenure as head of the country’s Home Office.

After initially being a full 20 percent ahead of the opposition in the polls, the Conservative Party managed to lose its parliamentary majority. This now forces the Conservative Party to join forces with one of the country’s smaller political parties to form a workable parliamentary majority. All too likely this will make for a weak government and will raise the prospect of yet another U.K. election within a year or two.

Needless to say, heightened political uncertainty will not be good for either the country’s economy or its forthcoming Brexit negotiations. A prolonged period of political uncertainty is bound to take a toll on investor confidence and on the value of the pound sterling. It is also likely to weaken the country’s relative Brexit-negotiating position with respect to its European partners and to delay the timetable for those negotiations while a new government is being formed.

One has to hope that a new and stable British government can be formed soon. If not, in the year immediately ahead, the United Kingdom should brace itself for some rough economic sledding and for painful Brexit negotiations with its European partners.

Desmond Lachman is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He was formerly a deputy director in the International Monetary Fund’s Policy Development and Review Department and the chief emerging market economic strategist at Salomon Smith Barney.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.