The view from Billinudgel

Theresa May and Malcolm Turnbull are both regretting their early elections


Malcolm Turnbull can hardly rejoice about the conservative debacle in the UK last week.

But he must be feeling a perverse satisfaction that he is not the only mug who called an early and unnecessary election. He also aimed to increase his party’s majority and to cement his own authority, and instead ended up crashing and burning, surviving by a whisker.

Theresa May, like Turnbull, must now be contemplating what might have been. If only she had gone straight to the people in the euphoria of Brexit, instead of letting the implications sink in and the hangover develop. If only she had campaigned harder on bread-and-butter issues instead of putting all her increasingly rotten eggs in the Brexit basket.

If only she had provided a convincing excuse for forcing a weary electorate back to the polls rather than a transparent grab to enhance her own power and prestige. If only she had not given Jeremy Corbyn a chance to remake himself as a credible Labour leader when he was down for the count. Perhaps most poignantly, if only she had just sat tight with her smallish but secure majority and got on with the job of negotiating Brexit.

All of this must resonate with the Australian prime minister as he continues to pick up the pieces of last year’s almost catastrophic misjudgement. But while he might empathise with the hapless May, he might also feel that she still has an unfair advantage: she is not hostage to an unruly upper house, an elected Senate stuffed with the deplorables that Turnbull’s gamble was supposed to expel forever.

May will have occasional problems with her House of Lords, but the lords temporal and spiritual will never go feral in the way the ocker plebeians do on a weekly basis. But both she and Turnbull will have to deal with unpredictable minor parties and a rebellious and disillusioned backbench, and to date neither appears to have mastered the brief.

May and Turnbull aren’t quite lame duck prime ministers, but neither is an effective boss of the farmyard – and there is very little they can do about it. For various reasons, another attempt to clear the air with a new election is out of the question. It is a safe bet that both of them will hang on to what is left of power until the last possible moment, so the realities of government mean that both will have to make do with whatever they can cobble together.

The two will meet face to face to discuss their travails in about a month; in the meantime, Turnbull has rung May to offer her what he called his congratulations for her re-election. No doubt he meant well, but it is hard to imagine that May welcomed the idea of what was essentially a case of one dud commiserating with another.

The conservatives of the Anglosphere still don’t get it: their elitist prescriptions for both the economy and the society that houses it are simply unacceptable. The mob are ready to reject the political class and are scrabbling for solutions that can embrace prosperity and, more crucially, equality. There is no sign that May or Turnbull have the skill or the desire to provide either. 

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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