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Hobbled May faces party ire after poll gamble misfire

The British prime minister has stitched together a coalition government with controversial Northern Ireland-based Democratic Unionist Party.

world Updated: Jun 10, 2017 20:54 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May in Downing Street on Friday.
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May in Downing Street on Friday.(Reuters)

Threats, resignations and bargaining marked the first day of the minority Theresa May government as recriminations began within the ruling Conservative Party to apportion blame for not only failing to gain a large majority but retaining the seats it had in Thursday’s election.

Tory ire focused on two of May’s closest advisers — Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill — who were responsible for the campaign and the party manifesto that contained plans about social care that raised many hackles, seen to have cost the party several votes and seats.

May was reportedly told by party MPs to change her working style, sack Timothy and Hill, or face a leadership challenge. By Saturday mid-day, Timothy and Hill resigned, amid growing doubts inside and outside the party about the longevity of the minority government.

Much concern has been expressed that a decade of effort to transform the Conservative Party from what May herself said was seen as a “nasty party” in 2002 to a liberal right-of-centre party on issues such as gay marriage and climate change would be undone by alliance with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which has opposite views on the issues.

The support of DUP, with 10 MPs, is crucial to the continuance in office of the minority government, after the Conservative Party fell short by eight of the majority mark of 326 in the 650-member House of Commons in Thursday’s election.

A politically hobbled May sought to refrain from rocking the boat by retaining incumbents in the top five cabinet posts: Philip Hammond (chancellor), Amber Rudd (home), Boris Johnson (foreign office), Michael Fallon (defence) and David Davis (exiting the EU).

May was expected to make further appointments over the weekend, particularly the several junior ministers who lost the election. The possible re-appointment of Priti Patel, international development secretary, and Alok Sharma, foreign office minister, is being keenly watched in the Indian community.

One of the most trenchant criticisms of May came from Evening Standard, a leading London-based tabloid now edited by George Osborne, who was the chancellor in the David Cameron government, but was sacked by May in 2016.

It said in an editorial comment: “We now have a minority Conservative government that is in office but not in power. Its majority depends on the caprice of 10 Democratic Unionists in Northern Ireland.

“The DUP does not support some central tenets of the Government’s economic and welfare plans. In this topsy-turvy world, the decisions that affect London will now be taken in Belfast. That is not a sustainable position; this paper will subject it to intense scrutiny, starting today.”