Inside CCHQ there is a sense that three things cost them their majority in this election. First, the public were fed up with austerity. With the Tories taking the deficit off the table as an issue, they had no plan to balance the books in the next five years, and they had no response to Jeremy Corbyn’s promise to spend more on pretty much everything. Second, there was a Brexit backlash. Those who had voted Remain turned up in great numbers at this election and voted against the Tory candidate. Third, Theresa May turned out not to be who the voters thought she was. Voters liked her because they thought she was a different kind of politician. But in this campaign, May looked like a typical politician – repeatedly refusing to answer questions – and an uncharismatic one at that. The so-called ‘dementia tax’ also made many elderly and right-leaning voters question her values. The u-turn on that torpedoed her reputation for ‘strong and stable’ leadership.
Tory ministers add two other things to this list. They point out that the party unilaterally disarmed. While Labour was enthusing its youth base with its promise of free university tuition, the Tories were scaring their base with its social care policy and promise to take the winter fuel allowance away from most pensioners. Then, they add that the campaign was an utter shambles. They complain that it was run by a tight clique who didn’t listen to advice and repeatedly made bad decisions. They point to the fact that the party won the local elections handsomely just months ago.
The question now is whether Theresa May can cling on. With the DUP’s support, which will be obtainable at a price, the Tories will probably just be able to cobble together some kind of governing arrangement. Some think this means that May must stay on; even if her whole style of government will have to change. But others in the Cabinet feel that she went to the country early, seeking a majority and a mandate and failed on both counts, so must go.