LONDON – Attempting to regain political momentum after an election left her atop a fragile minority government, British Prime Minister Theresa May said Tuesday that she has to win a “battle of ideas” in Parliament and the country.
In a speech both conciliatory and defiant, May urged her political opponents to contribute their “views and ideas” to help shape policy during “a period of great national change” as Britain leaves the European Union.
“My commitment to changing Britain is undimmed,” May said, nearly a year after taking office — and just over a month after she suffered a rebuff from voters in a snap election.
May became prime minister on July 13, 2016, through a Conservative Party leadership contest after predecessor David Cameron resigned when voters decided, against his advice, to quit the EU. She called an early election in an attempt to bolster her majority and strengthen her authority during Brexit talks.
The gamble backfired when voters stripped the Conservatives of their majority in Parliament and boosted the number of seats held by the left-of-center, opposition Labour Party.
The result means May must rely on deal-making and compromises to pass legislation, and is struggling to persuade her party that she isn’t a lame duck. A deal with Northern Ireland’s socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party gained the government crucial backing for key votes, but annoyed some liberally minded Conservatives.
May acknowledged Tuesday that the election result was “not what I wanted,” but said she remained committed to building a fairer Britain as the country leaves the European Union.
“In this new context, it will be even more important to make the case for our policies and our values, and to win the battle of ideas both in Parliament as well as in the country,” she said at the launch of a report on how to guarantee protections for the growing number of workers in the “gig economy.”
When she took office, May tried to outline a distinct political outlook that has been called “Mayism.” She placed a greater emphasis on government intervention than many previous Conservative leaders, and promised to counteract some of the negative effects of globalization, including a more unequal society.
She also vowed that Britain would not fudge its exit from the European Union, insisting that “Brexit means Brexit.”
But May has struggled to win backing for her policies. The Conservative election platform, which included plans to end free school lunches for young children, make seniors pay more for long-term care and reconsider the ban on fox hunting, is felt by many Tories to have contributed to their poor election result.
The election setback has led the government to abandon many of the pledges May campaigned on, including plans to reform education and trim retirees’ benefits. Instead, the government says it will devote its energy to trying to pass the laws needed to pave the way for Brexit — due to take place in March 2019.
But May said she remains determined to “build the better, fairer Britain which we all want to see.”
Referring to the report’s depiction of the growing insecurity of employment for millions, May urged the opposition to “come forward with your own views and ideas about how we can tackle these challenges as a country.”
But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was unimpressed, saying May was leading “a zombie government.”
“Her premiership has run out of steam and she will soon have to deal with her own insecure employment,” he said.