Die hard May clings on - but for how long?

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Craig Wilson assesses the state of play as the dust begins to settle on GE17

15th June 2017 by TFN 0 Comments

With the dust still settling following the general election, there remains much unknown, and it has become apparent there are plenty of avenues down which we could soon find ourselves traveling. 

Though there are perhaps more questions than answers at this stage, there are still some things we can be moderately certain about. 

Like Hans Gruber on the top floor of Nakatomi Plaza, Theresa May hangs on to office by her fingernails.

Despite much cheering at the 1922 committee and nauseating declarations of loyalty from senior party members, it seems unlikely that she can lead the party for any length of time. As Machiavellian mandarin, Sir Humphrey Appleby, commented in Yes, Prime Minister: “It is necessary to get behind someone before you can stab them in the back.” 

Craig Wilson

Craig Wilson

Like Hans Gruber on the top floor of Nakatomi Plaza, Theresa May hangs on to office by her fingernails

Nonetheless, Theresa May remains Prime Minister and looks set to cobble together a deal with hard line Northern Irish unionists – although a formal announcement has yet to be made. 

Of course, such a heavy defeat represents a pretty clear rejection of a manifesto built on continuing austerity and pursuing the hardest of Brexits. It is therefore pretty certain that the party will have to revisit, tweak, twist and scrap substantial elements of their policy platform. 

Lazarus of the cabinet, Michael Gove, has called for “maximum possible consensus” on Brexit. Clout-wielding Scottish Leader, Ruth Davidson, has called for an “open Brexit”. Former foreign secretary and leader, William Hague, backs the establishment of a Labour-style cross party commission on the matter and Iain Duncan Smith has offered his (rather belated) view that there should be an easing off on some austerity policies.  

Coupled with the populist fiscal policies of her new bed fellows in the DUP (who also seek a light-touch Brexit), it looks possible that there will be some progress on issues like winter fuel payments, benefit freezes and public sector pay. 

Ruth Davidson and her cohort of MPs (for one assumes they will be primarily loyal to her) effectively kept the Tories in power – a fact not lost on the prime minister or the party rank and file.

With Ruth Davidson often squirming when asked to defend UK government policy and also a firm proponent of Remain, it is possible that her MPs will prove to have a tempering influence on the UK party. There are already suggestions that they will operate as a party within a party and will have their own whip - although this remains to be seen.  

All of this sounds delightful and seems to point to a new a refreshed approach to Brexit. But perhaps we’re fooling ourselves that this can realistically be achieved - especially when these new and apparently moderating influencers still want to curb immigration, reintroduce fishing zone limits and prevent a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The EU 27 has a set position and it’s simply not feasible that they’ll undermine key principles to play nice with a battered and bruised UK government. 

Jeremy Corbyn – who remains wreathed in smiles – is still of the view that he can become prime minister and will put forward a Labour Party Queen’s speech. However, with the Tories likely to have cast iron commitments from the DUP, this looks a rather fanciful idea and will merely serve to show a) where Labour stand on key matters b) to what extent the Lib Dems and SNP are willing to throw their weight behind him. 

This is not to say that Corbyn and his (potential) allies cannot still prove to be a highly effective opposition. With the DUP perhaps less than reliable partners, there is huge potential that we will see the government defeated on a regular basis.  

For the sector, we can use this situation to our advantage – focussing on key issues to exert influence and deliver results. A prime example could be the charity gagging clause in the Lobbying Act, which is opposed (to some degree or other) by Labour and the SNP. 

The SNP themselves had a rough ride on election night, dropping 21 seats and losing big-hitters like Alex Salmond and Westminster leader, Angus Robertson. Ian Blackford has only just been revealed as the new leader of the party in the Commons.

Certainly his character will have an influence on how the SNP interacts with other opposition parties and our sector. Encouragingly, Mr Blackford was a member of the SNP’s Social Justice Group and has always keenly sought the views of Scotland’s voluntary organisations.  

For the SNP, this election has dealt a massive blow to a potential second independence referendum and it seems likely that this will be kicked into the long grass.

However, with independence the Party’s raison d'être, support for independence still substantial and a rocky Brexit likely to materialise, it would be a fool who’d rule out another referendum entirely.

Craig Wilson is parliamentary public affairs officer at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.