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Opinion

Opinion: Theresa May's devastating miscalculation

The British Prime Minister had called snap elections because she wanted a greater majority. But she has been left with even fewer seats, striking a major blow against her ability to lead, writes DW's Barbara Wesel.

Theresa May was so confident of her position. She wanted a mandate to form a stronger government with which to lead her country, in case of doubt, through the tough Brexit negotiations. Her campaign mantra became "strong and stable." But instead, it seems that she has triggered her own leadership mess. The British voters have shown her the finger and plunged the country into a deep political crisis.

Can anyone remember the overconfident Tories, who, before the election, were dreaming of a 150, or even 200-seat majority? And who predicted the complete demise of the opposition Labour Party? Once again it has been shown that all the polls belonged in the dumpster and that voters had other ideas.

A disastrous campaign

This must have been the worst election campaign that a British politician has run for decades. Theresa May treated the British like children, whose future could be dictated. She refused to take part in public debate, avoided any discussion with voters and endlessly repeated the same terms and phrases to every question. Her robot-like repetition of empty slogans earned her the nickname "Maybot."

Barbara Wesel Kommentarbild App *PROVISORISCH*

Barbara Wesel is DW's European correspondent

In the last weeks, the British have suddenly been able to observe their prime minister outside her protected role. She showed herself to be cut off, staying in her own small group of trusted people, not trusting anyone else, unable to listen. May appeared insensitive, lacking any understanding of people's real concerns. And these concerns are to do with education, the health system, and the public financing of aged care. Reviled as a "dementia tax," her suggestion that elderly people in need of care would have to finance it themselves -  and her subsequent turnaround in this issue - damaged her enormously. It is unbelievable that someone could even make such an absurd suggestion during an election campaign. Theresa May must have a penchant for self-destruction.

Labour leader better than his reputation 

In contrast to Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn led a far better election campaign than had been expected. In parliament, his appearances often seemed wooden, but he gained an emotional momentum through talks with voters, rounds of discussion and on public stages across the country. Corbyn came across as a down-to-earth politician, someone passionately behind his policies. The politician whose own party had signalled that he would be unsuitable for prime minister suddenly became a winner. 

The votes cast by young people have helped the Labour Party. They followed a cleverly run online campaign and gave the United Kingdom its own Bernie Sanders effect: Just as in the US, young voters supported the Left, placing hope in social promises.

A political disaster for the history books

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Less leverage for Britain in Brexit talks

This election has once again shown that the United Kingdom is deeply divided, between north and south, city and country, young and old, Brexiteers and pro-Europeans. The problem is that the British system is not made for this sort of political situation. In other countries, parties would now set about forming a coalition - but in the United Kingdom, a government without a majority is at a dead end.

As the relatively strongest party, the Conservatives could initially form a minority government. But the question is: How decisively will they be able to perform in the commencing Brexit-negotiations? The negotiations will probably have to be postponed until a government has actually been formed.

It is possibly the biggest political disaster for the Conservatives. Theresa May has willfully brought it on herself and her party. The result is the glaring opposite of "strong and stable." The situation is chaotic, and the future looks uncertain. It is the second catastrophic misjudgment by a British prime minister in a year's time, after David Cameron and his Brexit referendum. What's next, Great Britain? In Europe they can now only throw their hands up in horror.     

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