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After losses, U.K.’s May seeks coalition amid some calls to step down

June 9, 2017 at 6:45 PM EDT
It was a painful reckoning for Prime Minister Theresa May, whose election gamble failed in stunning fashion. May hoped the snap election would boost Conservative dominance and give her a stronger hand in negotiating Brexit with the EU. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports on what gave the Labour party its strong showing and what’s next for May and the U.K. parliament.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day’s other major story: One headline in London said it all, “Mayhem,” the morning after a ballot box drubbing for British Prime Minister Theresa May and her Conservative Party.

Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

MALCOLM BRABANT: It was a painful reckoning for a prime minister whose election gamble failed in a stunning fashion. But after meeting with the queen, Theresa May insisted she will carry on.

THERESA MAY, Prime Minister, United Kingdom: I will now form a government, a government that can provide certainty and lead Britain forward at this critical time for our country.

MALCOLM BRABANT: May had hoped the snap election would boost Conservative dominance in Parliament, and give her a stronger hand in negotiating Britain’s exit with the European Union. Instead, the Tories lost 13 seats in the House of Commons. The opposition Labor Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, gained 32 seats.

THERESA MAY: I had wanted to achieve a larger majority, but that wasn’t the result that we secured. And, as I reflect on the results, I will reflect on what we need to do in the future to take the party forward.

MALCOLM BRABANT: At Westminster, a demonstrator wearing a May mask laid flowers on a mock grave, amid rising calls for the prime minister to resign.

Labor leader Corbyn led the charge.

JEREMY CORBYN, Leader, Labour Party: It was her campaign, it was her decision to call the election, it was her name out there, and she was saying she was doing it to bring about strong and stable government. Well, this morning, it doesn’t look like a strong government, it doesn’t look like a stable government, it doesn’t look like a government that has any program whatsoever.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Corbyn’s success came in part from cooperating with the grassroots campaign normalization momentum, which took advice from Bernie Sanders’ volunteers.

Adam Klug is a national organizer.

ADAM KLUG, National Organizer, Momentum: You build up relationships with people on the doorstep. You listen to them. You communicate your ideas effectively and help train people on persuading people of why Labor’s policies made sense.

MALCOLM BRABANT: But May’s opponents aren’t the only ones questioning her role. Anna Soubry is a Conservative member of Parliament.

ANNA SOUBRY, Member of Parliament, Conservative Party: This is a very bad moment for the Conservative Party and we need to take stock, and our leader needs to take stock as well.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Will Conservatives go as far as removing May from power?

Anand Menon, a professor at King’s College London, says it depends on several key factors.

ANAND MENON, King’s College London: Firstly, the availability of someone else who can command support in the party, secondly, the scale of opposition in the party to her, and, thirdly, whether or not the members of the parliamentary party think it’s better to try and get rid of her now or have a period of calm where things can bed themselves in after the election, before maybe trying to do a leadership election next year.

MALCOLM BRABANT: May has been criticized for running a lackluster campaign. It was marked by a proposal to force elderly people to pay more for their care and her decision to skip a televised debate. Then came the terror attacks in Manchester and London, which refocused the race on security, and May’s role in cutting police ranks.

And there’s Brexit. The U.K.’s withdrawal talks with the E.U. are due to begin in just 10 days.

JOHN SPRINGFORD, Director of Research, Center for European Reform: This was certainly a rejection of Theresa May’s very tough Brexit strategy where she was going to cleave a lot of the links between the U.K. and the E.U.

MALCOLM BRABANT: John Springford is director of research at the Center for European Reform.

JOHN SPRINGFORD: There’s only about 18 months left to negotiate the Brexit deal, and if, say, we have another three or four months while the government is formed or we have fresh elections, then there’s much less time. And so the E.U. then has an awful lot of power towards the end of the negotiating process.

MALCOLM BRABANT: For now, May needs a coalition partner to form a governing majority in Parliament, most likely Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party. The group is pro-Brexit, but well to the right on social issues.

There’s broad agreement across the political spectrum that Theresa May is living on borrowed time. The Labor Party believes that her coalition of convenience with Northern Ireland’s DUP is unsustainable and that there will be a new general election in the not-too-distant future.

Mrs. May wants to remain in office for the next five years, but most analysts agree that the Conservative establishment will terminate her premiership when the time is right and they will select another candidate to lead them into the next general election — Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Malcolm Brabant, in London.

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