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The Future Of May And Conservative Party After Majority Lost In U.K. Election

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now we're going to head to the United Kingdom where the political landscape has proven to be as riveting and unpredictable as in the U.S. Last week, we talked about Prime Minister Theresa May's decision to call a snap election. It was a bid to shore up her majority in Parliament. May and her party had been expected to win by large margins, but things did not go as she had planned.

Theresa May's party lost the majority they had and are now reaching out to a socially conservative party called the Democratic Unionists to try to form a government. This morning, two of May's closest advisers were forced to resign. To hear more about all this, we called Roger Scully once again. He's a professor of political science at Cardiff University in Wales. I reached him via Skype. And I started by asking him, how it is that Theresa May, who had been tremendously popular, fell so short?

ROGER SCULLY: Well, I think a major thing that happened is that the Conservative Party effectively undermined the core message of their own campaign. Their core, central message was strong and stable leadership. But Theresa May had a very stumbling election campaign, and that severely undermined her status of this strong and stable leader. Meanwhile, the Labour Party started the campaign looking as if it was maybe facing some sort of existential disaster. And the purpose of its campaign seemed to be not to get close even to winning the election but simply to avoid some sort of complete wipeout.

However, Jeremy Corbyn proved to be a much more effective figure on the campaign trail than many people expected, and when we had the terrorist attacks in recent weeks, proved extremely effective at combating the right's normal strength on security issues. I think, you know, we see this election extremely effective Labour Party campaign, which has not allowed the Labour Party to win the election outright but has enabled it to deny the conservatives and Prime Minister May a parliamentary majority.

MARTIN: We're seeing that there are calls for Theresa May to resign. From whom? From her party? From Labour? And is she likely to?

SCULLY: I think Theresa May's finished. We should remember this was, as you said at the beginning, a snap election. Theresa May did not have to call this election. It was three years before the next scheduled election, and the conservatives already had a secure, if small, majority. And I think pretty much everyone thinks it is only a matter of time before she either resigns or is forced out by her own party.

MARTIN: But she is talking to a party out in Northern Ireland called the Democratic Unionists in an effort to form a coalition that would allow her to govern. Could you tell us a little bit about the Democratic Unionists? Who are these people, and how likely is she to be able to form a government with their backing?

SCULLY: Well, the Democratic Unionists are a party which strongly believes in Northern Ireland continuing to remain within the United Kingdom. Their support base is overwhelmingly amongst Protestants who live in Northern Ireland, and it's the largest single political party in Northern Ireland. The Democratic Unionists are also a fairly hard-right socially conservative political party. But I think the more problematic aspect of this arrangement - the Democratic Unionists agreed to support the conservatives on really major votes in Parliament.

I mean, what is deeply troubling about this is that a sort of position of neutrality between the Unionist community, who support the union between Northern Ireland and Britain, and the Nationalist community, who believe in a united Ireland, neutrality between those two communities has been an absolute cornerstone of British policy. Now, if Theresa May really is going to sign up her party for a parliamentary arrangement of support for the Democratic Unionists, that appears to fundamentally undermine the entire basis of the Northern Ireland peace process.

MARTIN: Well, so clearly there's a lot to talk about. We've only just scratched the surface here. But one issue is that the Brexit talks are due to start on the 19th of this month. So what happens now?

SCULLY: We now have a deeply uncertain situation with regard to the British government, and it is extremely difficult to see what sort of, you know, progress can be made in these talks. So this election has actually left not only her but the United Kingdom as a whole looking like it's in a much weaker position.

MARTIN: That's Roger Scully. He's a professor of political science at Cardiff University in Wales. We reached him via Skype. Professor Scully, thank you so much for speaking with us. Please do keep us posted.

SCULLY: Thanks very much, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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