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18th June 2024

Lady May on why a Labour majority isn’t a foregone conclusion: “Politics has become much more volatile”

Lady Theresa May


I am stepping down at this election and so I now don’t have the letters MP after my name. I do still think there’s a path to victory for the Conservatives for a number of reasons.

First of all, I was elected in 1997, and so I can say with certainty that Sir Keir Starmer is not Tony Blair: the impact on the doorsteps is simply not the same. That’s the impression I get in my Maidenhead constituency, and that’s what we’re seeing in what will probably be a marginal new constituency near me.

It’s worth remembering that Labour still has a huge mountain to climb to take the seats they need to take to get a working majority. They have to secure the largest consistent swing across the country in order to get there. In addition to that, I think politics has become more volatile. You do not get consistent swings across the country any longer; you get much more variation between seats. You might get a seat which you think is in the bag, and another which isn’t – and you might lost the first and gain the second.

The third reason why a Labour victory isn’t certain is that if you look at General Elections in recent years, they’ve tended to be unexpected results. 2010 was unexpected, so was 2015 – 2017 was definitely unexpected, to my own cost. Even in 2019, the size of the majority was unexpected. If you look closely at 2017, the Conservative Party was over 20 points ahead in the polls and look what happened: we didn’t secure our majority. It seems a long time ago now, but I would also point out that the local election results earlier in the year weren’t as good for the Labour Party or the Liberal Democrats as they would have wanted them to be: examine closely the gains of the Labour Party in the local elections, and add up gains by the Greens and the independents, they almost equalled the progress made by the Labour Party.

The social care policy was a factor in that 2017 election. This is a huge issue which the country has to address. I’ve been Conservative all my life. One of the things I’ve been brought up to believe is that when you’re able you should put something aside for a rainy day. The welfare state, when it was created, was there to support people who weren’t able to do that, and to help people at certain challenging points in their life. Somewhere along the line, we’ve got to the point of saying nobody should have to sell their house to pay for their care and that, whatever happens, the government will provide. But if someone is sitting on a significant asset why should the young couple down the road struggling on average earnings to keep their head above water pay for that person’s care? Politicians need to have an open and honest conversation with the public about this.

We live in much more uncertain and unpredictable times. It’s certainly the case that security has gone up the agenda because of our continuing support for Ukraine, but the number one issue in any election is the economy. I think there’s the need in today’s world to think a little more creatively about defence. People think in terms of big bits of kit for the army; but in Ukraine we have seen that drones have been incredibly effective. It’s concerning that Labour has not matched the government’s defence spending plans. What happened in Afghanistan has not made life easier as it’s made that country return to its former state as a place where terrorists can be trained. What’s happening in Gaza is potentially another flash point for those who would do us harm.

I will miss many of my colleagues – and I will remember the strange things. I remember the occasion when I was PM, when I was in Iraq. I was flying back to have dinner in Saudi Arabia and had to change before the dinner. I was being transported in an RAF Hercules, which is a troop carrier. There are no facilities on such aircraft, let alone for a woman. I said I had to change. The RAF put their heads together and took me up into the cockpit and they sat me down between the pilot and the co-pilot. They got a sheet and some gaffer tape and said: “Here you are, PM, you can change there.”


The former prime minister was talking on 23rd May 2024, the day after the election was called, at a Finito event at the East India Club

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