It was supposed to be an easy victory. But as voting day arrives, British Prime Minister Theresa May is feeling the heat.
Less than a year after May’s rise to power in the fallout of Britain’s Brexit referendum last summer, the newly-minted Conservative Party leader called in April for a snap election to be held on June 8. At the time, the surprise move seemed to pose little risk and great reward for the Tories.
May ― Britain’s former home secretary who was not elected, but rather fast-tracked into her nation’s top political post by default following former Prime Minister David Cameron’s resignation ― scheduled the vote hoping it would strengthen her platform and unify a politically divided nation.
The winner of Thursday’s election will lead the United Kingdom’s negotiations with European Union leaders to establish a critically important divorce deal, spurred by British voters’ narrow and stunning decision to leave the bloc. Initially opposed to Brexit, May now finds herself vying to pilot the departure.
But much like her predecessor’s failed gamble to keep the U.K. within the EU, the tables seem to be turning on May before her eyes. Once upward of 20 percentage points ahead of candidate Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party, recent polls reveal the prime minister now has a wavering 4-point lead.
Pulling A U-Turn On The Election
May called the snap vote after repeatedly saying she would do no such thing, kicking off her campaign with a confusing tone.
“I thought we needed a period of stability when I became prime minister, but what became clear to me when we went through the Article 50 process to trigger the process of leaving the European Union ... was that other parties wanted to frustrate those Brexit negotiations,” she said when pressed on her reversed decision to have an election after all.
“It would have been easy; I could have said, ‘Ok, I’m prime minister, there’s another couple of years going, why don’t I just stay and hang on in the job?’” she said. “But I didn’t do that ― I’ve called an election because of Brexit.”
Pulling A U-Turn On Social Care
Just days after releasing a Conservative election manifesto featuring a social care policy that included no cap on the amount pensioners would have pay for in-home care, May appeared to backpedal by promising an “absolute limit” on such payments.
“Nothing has changed,” she told the BBC, following a backlash on the policy branded by Corbyn as a “dementia tax.” Her words seemed to contradict those of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who had previously said upon the manifesto’s unveiling that the Tories were “completely explicit” about not having a cap on payments.
A defensive May tried to clarify her party’s faltering stance, saying: “Our social care system will collapse unless we do something about it. We could try to pretend the problem isn’t there and hope that it will go away ― but it won’t; it will grow each year ― we could play politics with it, as the Labour Party is doing, or we could show how we could fix it.”
She has declined to state what the cap would be.
Dodging The Media & Refusing To Debate
May has repeatedly been accused of dodging media appearances. She was notably absent from a primetime televised debate last month featuring the leaders of Britain’s various parties, having home secretary Amber Rudd take her place.
The prime minister also refused to directly debate Corbyn at a question-and-answer session hosted by BBC Question Time last Friday. Instead, each candidate addressed the audience independently, one after another.
“I think the debates where the politicians are squabbling amongst themselves don’t do anything for the process of electioneering,” she told critics ahead of the event.
Corbyn urged her to face off against him, calling her refusals “ridiculous” and “very odd.”
Enter The ‘MayBot’
Brits have expressed increasing frustration at the prime minister’s apparent robotic campaign rhetoric, even nicknaming her “the MayBot.”
She dismissed such comments about her demeanor, telling The Sun, “In most circumstances that I’m in public, I’m speaking about serious subjects. I’m not there to be a stand-up act telling jokes.”
Asked if she was aware of her new nickname, May replied: “That’s not a description of myself I’d recognize.”
The Trump Factor
The prime minister received yet another disparaging nickname back in January, when the Twitterverse dubbed her “Theresa The Appeaser” after she declined to strongly denounce U.S. President Donald Trump’s internationally condemned travel ban affecting several Muslim-majority nations.
“The United States is responsible for the United States’ policy on refugees,” she said at the time, in sharp contrast to many damning responses from other leaders around the world.
May became the first head of state to visit Trump at the White House earlier that month. The pair was photographed holding hands, and celebrated their countries’ “special relationship.”
This month, when Trump triggered international alarm and outcry by announcing America’s withdrawal from the historic Paris Agreement to tackle climate change, she “expressed her disappointment” through a statement issued by a spokesperson, while declining to sign a joint letter with France, Germany and Italy expressing regret at the U.S. pullout. Corbyn’s team slammed her “cowardice” as “a dereliction of her duty both to our country and to our planet.”
He seized the opportunity to criticize both Trump and May with one tweet that included the picture of them clasping hands.
A Guardian poll released earlier this year showed the U.S. president is widely unpopular with Brits: half considered him to be “dangerous,” and 56 percent judged him untrustworthy.
‘Enough Is Enough,’ Or Too Little Too Late?
After a terror attack killed eight in London Saturday night, May declared “enough is enough,” and vowed a clampdown on extremism.
The U.K. has endured a number of terrorist assaults in the past decade, including a car and stabbing attack on London’s Westminster Bridge that killed five in March and a suicide bombing that claimed 22 lives at a concert in Manchester in May.
“If human rights laws get in the way of tackling extremism and terrorism, we will change those laws to keep British people safe,” the prime minister said Tuesday.
But critics have pointed out that since May became home secretary in 2010, British police forces have lost tens of thousands of officers to cuts.
Total police numbers in England and Wales fell by 46,700, or 19.5 percent, under her leadership, The Guardian reported.
When Police Federation members warned the then-home secretary of the potential consequences of continued cuts back in 2015, May accused them of “scaremongering,” and said “there is no ducking the fact that police spending will have to come down again.”
Corbyn on Monday backed calls for the prime minister’s resignation in the midst of renewed criticism of her record on police cuts in the wake of Saturday’s attacks.
London’s police are “well resourced,” May hit back, noting Labour members had called for a further 10 percent reduction in 2015.
An audience member at Friday’s BBC Question Time asked her if she “secretly” regrets calling the election now that the numbers have shifted against her. Another accused her of scheduling the vote “for the good of the Conservative Party, and it’s going to backfire on you,” a remark greeted with applause.
“No I didn’t, sir,” May responded to the latter comment. She added: “I had the balls to call an election.”
When she did set the election, it appeared May’s to lose. She may well do that.