May might hold office but Corbyn has the power
2017-07-05 14:38:50 -
Opinion
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By Michael McGowan

The surprise UK general election stimulated much political interest, especially amongst young people, and resulted in a minority Conservative government – and continued uncertainty about the future of the UK and its role in Europe.

Despite repeated claims that she would not call an early election, Prime Minister Theresa May could not resist the temptation to make a dash to the polls when Labour’s fortunes appeared to be at a very low ebb.

That decision was opportunist, cynical – and has backfired. May oversaw the disappearance of a 20-per-cent lead in the opinion polls within weeks, and destroyed her image of a “strong and stable” leader.

On the other hand, the leader of the man opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, only enhanced his reputation and influence during the campaign, after long being demonised by the political establishment for lacking leadership qualities, even by many of his own Labour MPs.

The general election campaign was twice interrupted as a result of tragic terrorist attacks in London and Manchester, with the Prime Minister subsequently refusing to comment on her record, while Home Secretary, of cutting police numbers by 20,000.

Her position as a self-professed “strong and stable” leader increasingly lost credibility as she focused on meetings with the party faithful and not the public at large, and failed to take part in televised debates.

In marked contrast, Corbyn attracted crowds, sometimes numbering in the thousands, to his public meetings. And as the campaign progressed, and the different styles of the two leaders became apparent, more and more young people joined his campaign.

This was partly driven by activism over the Conservative manifesto, which included a dementia tax on family homes to cover cuts in social care, means testing of other benefits for the elderly, and even the return of fox hunting. It was described by soccer legend (and noted Corbyn supporter) Gary Lineker as an open goal.

Corbyn, by contrast, pledged increased funding for education and the NHS and the abolition of student fees, and challenged May for giving no explanation for making the rich better off while standing over an escalation of food banks across the country.

Theresa May’s gamble has left her with a minority government, and has seen her turn to an alliance with the regressive Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland to keep her hold on office. This deal has raised alarm bells about the future of the Northern Irish peace process, even prompting criticism from former Tory PM John Major, who played a key role in promoting peace in the 1990s.

The Northern Ireland peace process has also received substantial support from the European Union, and the involvement of then MEP John Hume in working with European Commission president at the time, Jacques Delors, was another key factor in the process.

There is concern in Europe that May is prepared to give in to any number of demands from the DUP, widely considered the most socially illiberal group in the British Parliament. Doing so could throw off the already precarious balance in Northern Ireland; the hard-won end to violence could be put at risk if the power-sharing system between unionists and nationalists is irrevocably blown.

The Northern Ireland Assembly needs trust and co-operation between all sides, so any perception of a compromising alliance between Westminster and the DUP is a concern.

The unnecessary, cynical, opportunist UK general election has led to a great deal of uncertainty. It is damaging to Brexit negotiations with the EU, especially regarding border between Northern Ireland and EU member state neighbour to the south. And it almost goes without saying that the arrangement between the minority Tory government and the DUP means that while Theresa May might holds the office of Prime Minister, she doesn’t hold the power. The people have someone else in their hearts, and Corbyn lies in waiting.

Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament.
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