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3Novices:How it all went wrong for Theresa May

DUBLIN // The question plaguing Conservative supporters and even British prime minister Theresa May is likely to be: Where did it all go wrong?

When Mrs May announced a snap election in late April, her party enjoyed a 21-point lead in the opinion polls over Labour, its chief rival. Labour's leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was struggling to strengthen his party into a credible opposition.

But that lead deteriorated swiftly - to as low as two points, according to some polls. Part of the reason was to do with the manifestos of the two parties.

Mrs May's messaging in campaign speeches centred around stability and Brexit, but her party's manifesto made some problematic promises: to legalise fox hunting again, and to institute steep healthcare costs for middle-class senior citizens with chronic ailments. Equally, the party vowed to cap energy prices, and to increase funding for schools and the National Health Service - prospects that have been anathema to a core segment of small-government Conservatives since the days of Margaret Thatcher.

"The manifesto was perceived by the public as awful," said Rob Wilson, Mrs May's former culture minister who lost his seat on Thursday.

. "We put an Exocet [missile] straight through the heart of our main supporters - older people."

In contrast, Labour's manifesto reached back to the party's leftist roots, proposing free childcare of up to 30 hours a week for two-year-olds; lifting the cap on welfare benefits, which have taken roughly £12 billion in benefits away from low-income families this year; dismissing the "bogus immigration targets" promised by Mrs May; and building more public housing.

These promises, as well as Mr Corbyn's anti-establishment appeal, seem to have attracted young voters in particular.

One exit poll, conducted by NME, showed that 56 per cent of all 18 to 35-year-olds voted on Thursday, compared to 44 per cent in 2015. The same survey found that two-thirds of these younger voters chose Labour.

The party also had to contend with Mrs May's image. The prime minister was frequently perceived - and portrayed - as arrogant, particularly when she chose to skip a television debate in which every other party leader or deputy leader participated. She also cried off doing live radio interviews.

Even her decision to call the election has been interpreted as an act of hubris, given that the Conservatives already had a majority in the House of Commons. Several commentators described the election as "pointless".

Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, called Mrs May "vain and arrogant" on Friday. He said she "called this election expecting it to be a coronation. She took each and every one of us for granted in the most cynical way possible."

Possibly the sole silver lining for Mrs May lies in the poor performance of the Scottish National Party (SNP), whose leader, Nicola Sturgeon, had promised before the election to press for a fresh referendum on independence for Scotland, an idea Mrs May resisted. In the event, the SNP lost 19 of its seats in parliament, dropping down to 35 MPs.

"Undoubtedly the issue of an independence referendum was a factor in this election result, but I think there were other factors as well," said Ms Sturgeon, Scotland's first minister. "I'm going to reflect carefully on the result and going to take some time to do that. I have now gone 36 hours without sleep and I don't think those are the conditions to rush to judgments or decision."

ssubramanian@thenational.ae



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