By CHARLIE COOPER
On a busy Thursday afternoon, you might have missed the big launch of Theresa May’s new policy platform. It mainly attracted headlines because the website didn’t work at first.
The oddest thing about it though, was how closely it resembled an election manifesto.
There was a brand-new website, a video message to voters, priorities set out in bullet points and crisp, clean font, and a title that smacks of the focus group: A Plan for Britain. There was also a speech, today, at the Conservatives Spring Forum in Wales. All that was missing was, well, the election announcement.
Whether or not May will call a snap election has been a simmering topic of Westminster gossip for months now.
At first glance, it looks like an unnecessary risk. She has managed to get Article 50 through parliament thanks to the Labour party’s backing, and she can now complete the negotiation secure in her position until the next scheduled election in 2020.
Most senior Tory MPs are unanimous that she doesn’t need to — nor do they want — to go to the people.
But the publication of the “Plan for Britain” — a relaunch of the government’s policy agenda, but not one that British people get to vote on — highlights one of May’s great strategic weaknesses: She has no electoral mandate to run the country. Not from voters, nor even from Conservative party members.
It is a problem for her on two fronts. Firstly, in the Brexit negotiations.
She can, of course, claim to be representing the will of British people in taking Britain out of the EU, but she can’t point to any evidence of democratic support for her particular (ambitious) Brexit objectives, which many in the EU see as “having cake and eating it.”
EU leaders, conscious of the threat of populism, respect democratic mandates. May’s strategy doesn’t have one, and that will work against her at the negotiating table in Brussels.
Secondly, on the threat of Scottish independence. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already goaded May about the size of their respective mandates, tweeting on Tuesday that she was “elected [First Minister] on a clear manifesto commitment re #scotref. The PM is not yet elected by anyone.”
It’s straightforward politics, but a potent attack. An unelected prime minister denying an elected devolved government the right to a democratic referendum is not a good look.
A snap election still looks unlikely, but May’s lack of a mandate is a growing problem for her.