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What next?

16 June 2017

ASSUMING Theresa May had time to attend evensong on Sunday, the words of the Magnificat might have had a par­ticular resonance: “He hath put down the mighty from their seat; and hath exalted the humble and meek.”

It is impossible to imagine what it feels like to be the object of so much Schadenfreude. It is not necessary to be a hard-and-fast Tory or a convinced Brexiteer to feel sympathy for a woman in her position.

The character that has been widely projected on to her in the past few weeks and especially the past few days — that of a proud, overweening, unlovely ideologue — does not accord with the more generous assessments made on her acces­sion as Prime Minister, nor with what kinder colleagues say of her out of the public glare.

With the hindsight that most commentators and leader-writers could have done with earlier, Mrs May was paralysed throughout the campaign by an inability to give details of any policies without alienating one (or possibly both) of the constituencies the Conservatives were seeking to attract: returning UKIP voters and the Centre Left.

She had to say something, though, and so agreed to a campaign that began and ended with attacks on the Labour leadership for, well, having different views. To her credit, she was not very good at fronting such a negative campaign, but embarrassment and timidity are not vote-winners.

Performing well in the pub­lic gaze is not essential to running the country, but looking ill at ease on the few doorsteps she approached caused the elector­ate to wonder at Mrs May’s generosity of spirit — which is an essential element when you cannot be generous with finances.

For all the concentration on personalities in the election, what is more serious is what the election revealed about the Conservative Party. We now know that both the main political groupings are riven by dissent and disaffection, and the SNP and the Liberal Democrats are hardly much happier. How can the country be governed successfully when so much attention and energy is sucked into internal politics?

One sign of hope comes from the coalescing of cross-party groups over the issue of Europe. If loose alliances can be made to secure a softer Brexit, this raises the possibility of similar deals made to secure the future of the NHS, a sensible approach to social care, and so on.

An agreement with the DUP could be seen in the context of wider and more open debate. This would require a new way of working: Mrs May would have to offer to lead what would be, in effect, a government of national unity, and the other parties — and other members of her own party — would have to agree to work with her for the good of the country.

This is only a laughable fantasy because we have such low expectations of our politicians. Mrs May might well have attended to the versicles at evensong, too: “Endue thy ministers with righteousness.” “And make thy chosen people joyful.” Mrs May knows what she has to do to regain the people’s confidence.

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