Does May’s U-turn matter?

Is the lack of a credible opposition allowing Theresa May too much room to make about-turns, asks Alex Rankine.


Jeremy Corbyn: not even capable of effective opposition
(Image credit: Copyright (c) 2017 Rex Features. No use without permission.)

Theresa May's six years at the Home Office mean that she sounds authoritative on "the life-and-death matters of crime, terror and espionage", says Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times. But the prime minister shows nervousness when dealing with other policy areas. Her U-turn over social care raises questions about her government's habit of miscalculating and underpreparing. "Colleagues who defended her proposal in public, lobby interests who fought it and any EU negotiators tuning in from the continent will infer the same lesson: this prime minister is strong and stable, until you test her."

May might be more careful if she had someone to hold her to account, says The Economist's Bagehot column. "The aim of British elections is not only to produce a government. It is also to produce a plausible opposition" that can keep an eye on shoddy proposals. Yet today's "Labour Party is not so much an organised political group as a battlefield between two rival ones". With talk of a hundred Labour MPs forming a separate parliamentary party after the vote and infighting inevitable, May will face an opposition for whom "holding the Conservative government to account" as it embarks on the revolutionary upheaval of Brexit "will be a secondary concern".

Labour is weak, agrees The Guardian's Gaby Hinsliff, but that shouldn't excuse May's recent blunders. "The trouble with ascending unopposed to the leadership" as May has done, and Gordon Brown also did, is that "big ideas don't get stress-tested enough, and nor do flaws in the way your team works".

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May still hasn't grasped that running on not being Jeremy Corbyn won't cut it if she is to secure a proper mandate. And the prime minister's attempts to deny a U-turn had taken place were especially implausible. Apparently, it was simply a "clarification" prompted by Labour's "scaremongering". "That car, now driving the opposite way down the street? It hasn't U-turned. It's just clarified its direction."

What the political commentariat fails to grasp is that the famous "U-turn" matters much less than they think, says James Kirkup inThe Spectator. "To some, May has shattered forever her image as a strong, steady leader." Yet the May brand will survive this. The huge media coverage given to alleged U-turns often misreads the causes for a leader already perceived as weak they can be the death knell, but if, like May, "you're already seen as strong and decisive, then U-turning may well be seen as confirmation that you're strong and decisive, able to admit when you've made a mistake and put it right".