London: British Prime Minister Theresa May was warned about the dangers of calling an early election and told more than two weeks before polling day that she risked losing her parliamentary majority, Fairfax Media has learned.
As recriminations over Mrs May’s disastrous campaign threaten to consume the Conservative Party, highly placed sources told Fairfax Media she was told of her dire polling situation 16 days before last Friday’s poll and less than six days after she unveiled her disastrous “dementia tax” in the Conservative Party’s manifesto.
Mrs May was also told about the surge in Labour’s vote, contrary to claims that her pollsters missed the swell in support for Jeremy Corbyn and his high-spending promises which included free university tuition, childcare and adult learning courses.
The revelation comes amid a bitter blame game, with attempts to cast the Australian strategist Sir Lynton Crosby as the architect of the Tories’ spectacular early election miscalculation, even though he and his counterpart Mark Textor had no role in writing policies.
Tory MPs, Mrs May’s advisers and Crosby-Textor’s opponents in Australia have all rounded on the pair in the fallout from the disastrous poll, where Mrs May’s 20-point lead in the published polls at the beginning of the election ended in the loss of 13 seats and a hung parliament.
Fairfax Media understands Mrs May was warned at the outset about false high expectations and the dangers of calling an election three years ahead of schedule, against her own promises.
A report in The Times on Monday claimed Mrs May “hated” the much-derided “strong and stable” slogan used in the early weeks of her campaign and attributed to Mr Crosby.
He has managed successful campaigns for John Howard, Boris Johnson when he ran for mayor of London and Mrs May’s predecessor David Cameron. Mr Cameron delivered Mr Crosby a knighthood in May last year for his “service to politics”.
The “strong and stable” slogan backfired when Mrs May was forced to make a U-turn on the “dementia tax” – a hated proposal to make the elderly pay for their in-home care after their deaths through their estates – with her opponents mocking her as “weak and wobbly”.
Mrs May’s two top policy aides Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill quit their positions on the weekend as Tory MPs demanded either the scalps of the joint chiefs of staff or the prime minister’s own.
In a post for Conservative Home, Mr Timothy said the reason for the hung parliament result was not an “absence of support” for Theresa May and the Conservatives “but an unexpected surge in support for Labour”.
“The Conservative election campaign … failed … to get Theresa’s positive plan for the future across,” he said. “It also failed to notice the surge in Labour support, because modern campaigning techniques require ever-narrower targeting of specific voters, and we were not talking to the people who decided to vote for Labour.”
But he accepted responsibility for the “oversight” of the policy program, and said he regretted the decision to not have announced at the outset – as the prime minister later did – that the extent to which a person’s estate could be drained by the state would be capped.
Conservative MPs have complained that Mr Timothy and Ms Hill put up barriers around the prime minister and failed to consult her cabinet colleagues during the campaign. These frustrations were shared by the Crosby-Textor duo, with The Times reporting Mr Crosby believed the Tory manifesto needed to include more Conservative policies.
Mr Crosby and Mr Textor are believed to be frustrated the grim polling data and warnings about calling a snap vote were brushed aside, according to sources familiar with the campaign.
Mrs May’s decision to call an early election and then pursue a presidential-style campaign means she has been forced to shoulder the fallout from Thursday’s shock vote. Her long-term future as prime minister is uncertain less than a week ahead of critical Brexit negotiations with European Union officials.
Number 10 on Monday delayed the state opening of parliament and Queen’s speech scheduled for June 19 as she continued to thrash out a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), amid deep unease within the Conservative Party about a deal with the Northern Irish party.
DUP leader Arlene Foster will meet Mrs May in London for further talks but ahead of the meeting declined to say what, if any, demands the DUP would make of the Conservatives as part of the agreement to guarantee Mrs May confidence on the floor of the parliament.
“We’re not going to negotiate over the airwaves,” she said. “We’ve had a positive engagement with the Conservative Party, those discussions continue and I am looking forward to going over to London later on this evening.”
Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party pounced on the delay as a sign that Mrs May’s promise that she could form a minority government was in chaos, as the prime minister chaired her first meeting of her reshuffled Cabinet at 10 Downing Street and met to placate a group of backbench Conservative MPs known as the 1922 Committee who are livid with her performance.
The delay means the Queen is likely to miss attending one of her favourite events, the race meeting at Royal Ascot which begins on Thursday. Buckingham Palace declined to comment on the Queen’s schedule. Her Majesty has attended every day of the five-day event in the past.
The Queen’s speech is delivered by the Queen from the throne in the House of Lords to open parliament.
While the Queen reads the speech, it is written by the government and contains an outline of its policies and proposed legislation for the new parliamentary session, signalling that the prime minister is still negotiating with the DUP what she can include.
The Queen’s Speech was historically written on vellum with ink that takes three days to dry, though it’s now produced on thick goatskin parchment paper that also needs several days to dry which rules out any last minute changes.
Earlier Brexit minister David Davis told BBC Radio that parts of the Conservatives’ manifesto would have to be “pruned” following the results of the poll.
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