Monday 6/19 - Gregory Katz - AP London Bureau Chief - UK Prime Minister May barely survives an election upset.  What’s next?

Monday 6/19
Gregory Katz
AP London Bureau Chief
UK Prime Minister May barely survives an election upset. What’s next?

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  Good advice.  Especially in politics.

“Leave well-enough alone,” would be an older, and perhaps more English way of saying the same thing.  But sometimes politicians just can’t accept well-enough.  Delusions of grandeur.  They think they deserve better than well-enough.  Because, like the legendary producer who is the butt of a million TV news crew jokes, they’re convinced they can “make it better.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May is faced with 3 enormous things to make better: an economy in serious trouble, a national anxiety about terrorist attacks and crucial negotiations over BREXIT, Britain’s exit from the European Union. 

She knew she was the best person for the job.  Her delusion was that most British voters felt the same way.  So she called for a snap election and almost lost her job.

Worse, for everyone, her election losses have left her in worse shape with regard to all 3 of those key issues she faces.

First, and I think most important, the economy.  Consumer spending has dropped after a recent jolt in inflation, caused by the dropping value of the Pound following last year’s vote for BREXIT.  Now, Prime Minister May’s ill-chosen election, and the “hung” Parliament it has created, have knocked the Pound down a few more Pence, and forecasters see inflation continuing to rise.

As for the UK’s sense of its domestic security, after the last attack on pedestrians along London Bridge and other people out and about nearby, neither of Mrs. May’s memorable utterances seems to have improved that.

Her threats to crack down on Internet freedom, already very closely surveilled under British law, sounded empty, while her summation “enough is enough” sounded shallow, self-important and insensitive to the implication that the prior, much more devastating, terrorist attack in Manchester was somehow not enough in itself.

Probably fewer people would have caught that implication had Prime Minister May not seemed shallow, self-important and insensitive throughout the campaign she had chosen to wage as her route to grander levels of achievement and power.

When the votes were counted, she had lost 19 Conservative Party seats, enough to lose her narrow, but good-enough Parliamentary majority.  Now she has to make a deal with the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party to make a ruling coalition, and the price of that may be a weakened bargaining position when she heads into the BREXIT talks, because the DUP wants a soft exit, and Mrs May has staked out a position that British withdrawal from Europe should be hard, fast, and damn near total.

She never had a prayer with that.  Her concept that the UK could stay in the EU trading zone without accepting EU rules on open borders to immigrants has been dismissed by just about everyone who will line up against her at the bargaining table.

For all the versions of “soft BREXIT” being floated since the elections, many of them by May’s fellow-Conservatives, and the leader of the DUP, this is a perfect example of “negotiating with yourself.”  

There’s no talk of soft BREXIT on the EU side: The European Union has to make BREXIT as hard on the UK as it can, to warn off any other potential leavers.

One reason Theresa May remains Prime Minister is that almost nobody else wants to stake their legacy on simultaneously fixing the economy, calming national security anxieties, and completing the Hellish negotiation of BREXIT.

 

READING ROOM

Gregory Katz covered the murder of John Lennon for Rolling Stone, won a Pulitzer Prize for overseas reporting for the Dallas Morning News and is now the bureau chief for the Associated Press in London, a city he has lived in and covered for more than a decade.

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