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Are Theresa May's days numbered?

Alan MacKenzie
July 13, 2017

Having expected a landslide victory, Theresa May's failure to win a majority has shattered her authority and left her future in doubt. How long can she hold on? Former Tory Party leader Iain Duncan Smith is our guest.

Conflict Zone Zitat Iain Duncan Smith

Iain Duncan Smith on Conflict Zone

Amidst the political crisis that followed Britain's unexpected Brexit vote last June and David Cameron's subsequent resignation, Theresa May’s pitch as the 'stability' candidate was an appealing one for many in her party and in the country. 

But having emerged victorious from a contest with no other serious contenders, wouldn't her authority soon have to be endorsed by the voters? The polls, after all, had put her up to 20 points ahead of her Labour rivals - why wouldn't she call an election now?

UK | Theresa May in Bristol
Theresa May's election mantra of "strong and stable" failed to convince enough voters to deliver a Conservative majority in parliamentImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/B. Birchell

May's repeated response echoed the themes of her leadership bid: this was no time for playing games and calling an election because of favorable polls; the government was getting on with the job of Brexit; consistency was the order of the day.

With that in mind, voters - and many of her own MPs - were surprised when she did call a snap election after months of denials and just weeks after triggering Article 50, beginning the UK’s exit from the EU. A decisive victory, she and her party came to argue, would strengthen the negotiating position of the government as it entered Brexit talks.

But now May's failure to win an overall majority has undermined any credibility she had and put her future in the hands of unhappy party colleagues.

Cash for votes

Why, then, immediately after the election had she pretended that nothing had happened?

"She won the election, she didn't lose it," Duncan Smith told Tim Sebastian on Conflict Zone.

London Theresa May Rede Downing Street in London
Theresa May said the day after the election her government would "fulfil the promise of Brexit"Image: Reuters/S. Wermuth

"We didn't win it by the amount that we would have wished, we didn't have an overall majority, but we've been in this situation before. Her purpose, therefore, is to bring that stability to the government, to make sure we get on doing the job." 

With no majority and the ever-present threat of back-bench rebellion over the terms of Brexit - the very reason for the decision to call the election - May was forced to seek a deal with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to prop up her government.

The terms of that deal were more straightforward: £1 billion of additional public spending for Northern Ireland in return for the parliamentary votes that keep the government in place.

But Duncan Smith rejected the claim that this called into question the integrity of his party: "Integrity is about governing and governing well for the country and the reality is that Northern Ireland has always been a special case. Northern Ireland has always received proportionately more than most other areas for the very simple reason we've had significant troubles."

Wasn't this using public money for party purposes, keeping the Tories in government and Labour out?

"No," Duncan Smith told Sebastian. "To keep our government in power governing and not have chaos. I think that's worth the money."

"Politics is about votes"

But while the UK Prime Minister does her best to keep Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn out of Downing Street, she has in recent days extended an offer to his party to come forward with its "views and ideas", including on Brexit.

Tory MP and former leader Duncan Smith denied on Conflict Zone this was May seeking the advice of a man she has deemed unfit to be prime minister.   

Großbritannien Wahlen 2017 – Wahlausgang - Jeremy Corbyn
Recent polls put Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party up to eight points ahead of the Conservatives Image: picture alliance/AP Photo/F. Augstein

"What she's actually saying is, 'don't you think you have a responsibility then to back up your manifesto by not voting those things down but actually supporting the government as it takes that legislation through?' - delivering, by the way, on what was one element of Labour's manifesto," he told Conflict Zone.

"Politics is about votes and at the end of the day, the Labour Party stood on a manifesto on a number of issues, one of which was leaving the European Union."

No going back on Brexit?

Asked by Tim Sebastian whether the UK could change its mind on Brexit, Duncan Smith cited figures suggesting the public didn’t want to reverse the decision to leave: "Less than three weeks ago YouGov ran a poll asking the very simple question: What do you want? 70 percent said 'let's get on with it.' Over half of the Remain contingent said 'let's get on with it'."

Could he imagine a situation where he would admit leaving the EU was the wrong choice for Britain?

"It would be that somehow Europe turns out to go in one direction and we go in the other direction and all in all we think that it would have been better if we hadn't done… But I don't see where the evidence is to mount that, so I don't change my mind."