Over the last few days, we’ve been taking a look at the results of our last survey before next week’s general election – and finding a decidedly mixed response to Theresa May’s agenda.
We’ve found that there is a potential base of support for ‘Mayite’ policies in areas such has her approach to Brexit, infrastructure investment, technical education, human rights, and user-focused public service reforms.
On the other hand we’ve found much less enthusiasm for direct intervention in businesses and the economy: not only did policies such as the energy price cap and forcing publication of pay gap statistics rank bottom of the policies we polled, but members’ still rate Margaret Thatcher’s vision higher than her latest successor’s.
We also asked members to rate some of the Prime Minister’s statements about her vision for the role of government in the economy. Here’s the list, with average scores:
As you can see, there’s neither fierce rejection nor any semblance of enthusiasm (which we generally take to mean a score of seven or more out of ten).
We wouldn’t expect May’s positions to be wildly unpopular, as it would be very hard to see how she could be has popular as she has been with the grassroots were that the case. But these scores tell the story of a leader who hasn’t sold the party on even the broadest strokes of her agenda.
This, combined with what looks to be shaping up to be a solid but still disappointing general election victory on Thursday night, could bode ill for the prospects of ‘Mayism’ as a domestic programme.
As Sam Bowman of the Adam Smith Institute has pointed out, Mayism has no bench: the only people who really seem to know what it is, assuming anybody does, are the Prime Minister and her two lieutenants, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy. Without a pool of sympathetic journalists and think tanks they had no way to stress test ideas before putting them straight into the Conservative manifesto – where some of them played very badly indeed.
If the Tories do end up with a merely solid majority next week, let alone if they do worse, two things may happen. The first is that May’s domestic policies could become tainted as vote losers, sapping the Party’s enthusiasm to push them at a time when Brexit will be at the top of the Government’s agenda. Absent the honeymoon aura or a commanding majority the Prime Minister will also going to have to start being more accommodating to the Party’s economic liberals
Secondly, as Alex Massie has pointed out in the Spectator, the clock may start ticking on the next Tory leadership race as MPs decide that May should not front the next general election. If the Fixed-term Parliaments Act stays in place then it’s scheduled for 2021 (the FTPA limits parliaments to four years after an early election), or if repealed the usual five-year limit would push the deadline to 2022.
With Brexit set to formally occur in 2019, and the transitional arrangements likely to run for a few years after that, a timetable starts to emerge where May oversees Brexit and then hands over to a successor some time before the first post-Brexit election (which, on account of all the new powers Parliament will have, should be very domestically focused indeed).
Absent a corps of ideological sympathisers and tainted by association with this woeful campaign, Mayism may struggle to find a new champion once its tight-knit team of sponsors depart Downing Street.
Of course, the future need not be this doom-laden. The last few years have provided ample warning against trying to predict the future with much confidence.
Past experience also shows that success can do much to smooth over the memories of earlier missteps – as Thatcher’s myth ended up colouring the popular memory of her early career. If May spends the next two to three years governing well and making a success of Brexit, the sins and errors of the spring of 2017 will be forgiven, if not forgotten.
The Prime Minister is determined to be remembered for more than Brexit – that’s why what was supposed to be a Brexit election has ended up being fought over a confusing selection of controversial domestic policies. She must realise that getting our departure from the EU right is not a hindrance to carving out a meaningful legacy on other issues: it’s a prerequisite for it.