The Prime Minister Theresa May’s message in this general election was simply to ask for the public to put their trust in her leadership in the upcoming Brexit negotiations. The decision to have a such a narrow campaign was based on her perceived record of success as a hard-nosed and determined reformer while Home Secretary, a singular message that spectacularly failed. Even the majority of UKIP voters who switched turned to Labour.
As Labour fought on traditional left-wing views, extra spending, anti-austerity measures, nationalisation, workers’ rights, Mrs May and the Conservatives had no answers. They hardly tried. They ignored voters’ concerns over public services, attempting to bring the focus to their singular message, using monotonous slogans.
And then the terror attacks in Manchester and London projected Mrs May’s record as Home Secretary into the spotlight. What everyone thought would be her trump card – she was the longest serving Home Secretary in 50 years and had been so successful in leading reform in the face of huge opposition from within the sector – was her undoing. Even though counter-terrorism funding had been protected, the massive reduction in officer numbers made voters think she had made them less safe.
The public’s suspicions were confirmed by a huge outpouring of hate from within policing, not surprising as Mrs May had led an assault on officers’ terms and conditions. She is seen as responsible for attacking the one thing that officers see as the biggest reward for 30 to 35 years of constantly putting themselves in danger and dealing with society’s ills – their pensions. Police salaries have stagnated under public sector pay caps too.
There is another reason why Mrs May is reviled by rank and file, she spent six years berating them over corruption and failures of the past.
As she implemented reforms that included the recruitment of people at senior levels from outside, the message to policing was that she did not like what she saw.
Her speeches continuously and repeatedly majored on the need to reform policing, appearing to sneer at those she effectively led, her platitudes to the bravery of officers forgotten by what always followed.
Senior officers and civil servants who dealt with her say Mrs May is cold and lacking empathy, she is a politician determined to see through whatever she set out to achieve.
And as prime minister she appears to have continued in the same way. Her initial ratings crumbled as she reverted to type under pressure. We have no idea if she understands why people rejected her message, and were persuaded by another argument, as she does not appear to have any empathy with the public.
Whoever advised the Prime Minister that she should be the sole focus got it spectacularly wrong as she failed to provide any vision, looked shifty, and could only repeat the same slogans about Brexit.
Style is, like it or not, a determining factor in election results. A proven track record can overcome a deficit in this area as Margaret Thatcher proved.
But this general election has shown that if you have no vision, and people can’t warm to you, and your track record appears suspect, you are on shaky ground.
The Prime Minister is considering her options: either to remain in post and prove her ability beyond doubt in negotiations with Europe, facing down intense opposition from other parties and rivalry from within; or stand aside and allow someone to put a better argument to the people in six months’ time.