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UK election: A look at May, Corbyn and Farron, leaders who define British politics

HT takes a look at the three candidates in the fray: Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and Tim Farron.

world Updated: Jun 08, 2017 13:57 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Britain Prime Minister Prime Minister Theresa.
Britain Prime Minister Prime Minister Theresa.(File Photo)

Britons will vote on Thursday in a general election and a poll has showed Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May extending her lead over Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. HT takes a look at the three leaders in the fray.

Theresa May: The cricket-loving ‘ice maiden’

If Theresa May returns as the prime minister after Thursday’s election, she will have an equally defining impact as the first woman premier in British history – Margaret Thatcher.

The tall, lanky and seemingly shy MP from Maidenhead is known as a tough, no-nonsense Home secretary who does not do small talk. Former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg dealt with her often, but always came away reinforcing his vision of her as the ‘ice maiden’.

Sixty-year-old Oxford-educated May had the longest tenure in a century of over six years in the Home Office, which is seen as the graveyard of many political careers. And no other home secretary has had more impact on sensitive issues like immigration, which affected many Indians.

But outside of politics, May and her husband Philip John May are known to be keen cricket fans. They were introduced at an Oxford Conservative disco by former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 1976, which was May’s first year at university.

May’s cricket hero is Geoff Boycott, the dour Yorkshireman who was the scourge of bowlers around the world during his time – and that probably says something about her. She was also enamoured by the tall West Indian speedster, Tony Gray. Her love of cooking and bold shoe designs is well known.

May took over as prime minister after David Cameron resigned in the aftermath of the June 2016 EU referendum, which resulted in the Brexit vote. She has since grown in the job, taking on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn across the dispatch box every Wednesday.

It was during a walk with her husband in the sylvan market town of Dolgellau nestled in the mountains of Snowdonia in April that May decided to call Thursday’s mid-term election. Many insist it was not required, when the next election was not due before May 2020.

But May wants to win a mandate for her vision of Brexit, and a big majority will allow her to ignore critics inside and outside her party during the two-year process to leave the EU. By all accounts, it is a gamble that may not work, particularly given the Corbyn bounce in recent weeks.

Jeremy Corbyn: The ‘jholawala’ who energised Labour

Had Jeremy Corbyn been active in Indian politics, he would most certainly be called a ‘jholawala’ – one who dresses simply, carries a cloth bag, sports a beard, passionately believes in left policies, and joins almost every rebel cause on the streets.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party. (Reuters)

Until September 2015, Corbyn, who was until then confined to the back benches in the House of Commons and was mostly unknown except to the focussed band of ‘jholawalas’, was catapulted to the pole position of leader of Labour, the main opposition party.

Born in 1949 in Wiltshire, south-west England, Corbyn was elected seven times from the London constituency of Islington North, considered a bastion of a left-leaning middle class. He was a London councillor before moving on to parliamentary politics.

A veteran socialist, Corbyn has been so left-wing that he divorced his second wife of 12 years, Claudia Bracchitta, because she refused to send their son to a failing comprehensive school. While his first wife was Jane Chapman (divorced in 1979), he married Laura Alvarez in 2015.

Corbyn was seen as one of the most rebellious Labour MPs, having voted against his party more than 500 times during his parliamentary career. In an era of British politics marked by spin and television-friendly politicians, Corbyn comes across as an honest man wedded to conviction politics, not afraid to tick off journalists.

He has been a regular and passionate participant in demonstrations and marches for over 40 years, championing controversial causes, helping distribute pamphlets, and wielding a megaphone on the streets.

However, even his most ardent supporters would not have imagined that he would so energise the party that he may well end up as the prime minister, leading a minority government if the party emerges as the single largest party, if not winning an outright majority.

His critics inside and outside the party – including leading lights such as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – believed he did not have it in him to lead the party to power, but the last few weeks have surprised many. The critics now concede that they were wrong.

Corbyn has successfully enlarged the parameters of the election campaign beyond Brexit to the fallout of deep funding cuts imposed by the Conservative government under David Cameron and Theresa May. So much so that his popular manifesto policies and slogan – ‘For the many. Not the few’ – has put May on the backfoot.

Tim Farron: Has the best lines, but faces an uphill task

In the battles between the Big Two, it is easy to forget the third pole in British politics – Liberal Democrats, who have a considerable following due to their left-of-centre policies and a common sense approach to issues. It is through this medium that Tim Farron makes his voice heard.

Britain's Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron. (AP)

At 46, Farron is the youngest of the leaders of the three main parties, but often has the best lines in House of Commons debates and television shows. The humour and wit he packs conceals the uphill task he faces to revive the party’s fortunes in Parliament.

From winning 57 seats in the 2010 election, Liberal Democrats sank to eight in 2015. The party was a coalition partner in the David Cameron government (2010-2015), but fell from grace mainly due to its inability to deliver on promises while in government.

Farron admits he likes to talk. Popular in party ranks for his jokey-matey personality, he was first elected to Parliament in 2005. He was one of the eight who survived the 2015 election debacle.

Farron had the most biting words during a recent TV debate that made more news due to Theresa May’s absence (Home secretary Amber Rudd stood in for her): “Where do you think Theresa May is tonight? Take a look out your window. She might be out there sizing up your house to pay for your social care. And why do you think she called this election? She wants five years as Prime Minister and she thinks you’ll give it to her, no questions asked – literally.”

His closing statement was this: “Now Amber Rudd is up next. She’s not the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is not here tonight. She can’t be bothered. So why should you? In fact, Bake Off is on BBC 2 next. Why not make yourself a brew. You’re not worth Theresa May’s time. Don’t give her yours.”

The paths of Farron and May have crossed before: Fresh out of college, he was selected as the Liberal Democrats candidate in the Labour stronghold of Durham North West in the 1992 general election. May was the Conservative candidate, contesting her first election.

Farron ended up third behind Labour’s Hilary Armstrong and May, but continued his journey in politics over the years, succeeding Nick Clegg as the leader in 2015 (Clegg was deputy prime minister in the Cameron government). It helped that Farron often criticised the policies of the government in which his party was a coalition partner.

Down after the 2015 debacle, the June 2016 EU referendum result came as a lifeline to the party, which is the most pro-EU party in Britain. Farron now hopes to win the support of the 48 per cent who voted in the referendum to remain in the EU.

Farron has promised to hold another referendum to agree – or not – to the final deal before Britain leaves the EU. His is the only party to promise this. He has already promised to make it difficult for May to force her version of ‘hard Brexit’ on the country – his party has over 100 members in the House of Lords.