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The Straits Times says

Britain doesn't need more uncertainty

Britain's putative exit from the European Union owes a lot to the intense rivalries that prevail in the ruling Conservative Party. A promise by then Prime Minister David Cameron to hold a referendum on the question of continued European membership, made with the purpose of settling the nettlesome issue once and for all, turned into a nasty surprise. The result was Mr Cameron's own exit from 10, Downing Street.

Now, with the EU indicating that it will enforce a high-cost separation on the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Theresa May has gambled on a snap election to widen her modest parliamentary majority, and thus give her more clout in Brussels, as well as in her own nation. The polls were ordered ostensibly to prevent opposition parties from derailing Brexit. In truth, it was because Mrs May saw victory as a cinch, given the poor state of the opposition. Like Mr Cameron's gamble, which went badly wrong, this one, set to take place next Thursday, is throwing up its own frights.

The latest YouGov poll, which stands against the projections of other pollsters, suggests a shock result awaits. It says the Tories may lose 20 seats in the 650-member House of Commons, stripping Mrs May of her current majority of 17. The opposition Labour Party could win 257 seats, and smaller parties, including the Scottish National Party and Northern Irish parties, could take 83 seats. British pollsters have got it badly wrong before but, even so, there is little doubt that Mrs May's overwhelming lead in public opinion has been significantly dented. It is also possible that some Britons are having second thoughts about Brexit. Sadly, the nation might pay a heavy price for such indecision.

History teaches that the best-laid plans of men can go wrong at the polls. In 2004, the Vajpayee government in India, the former jewel in the British Crown, called snap elections, hoping to ride a buoyant economy to electoral gain. Instead, the leader was stunningly voted out of office.

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Will Mrs May be judged harshly for gambling with fate? Unfortunately, her policy vacillations and her reluctance to debate Labour's chief have damaged her semi-Thatcherite image. The danger ahead is that if the poll results go wrong for Mrs May in any manner, she will doubtless come under attack from the waiting Tory wolf pack.

A leadership change would see three prime ministers hold office within the space of two years. Such a scenario of prime ministers rotating through the doors of 10, Downing Street would not be good for the UK economy. It has escaped the pangs of Brexit so far, largely because consumer confidence has held up and because exports have gained from a sharp drop in the pound's value. But another political clanger could have a profound effect. That's not what the UK needs at this critical moment.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 03, 2017, with the headline 'Britain doesn't need more uncertainty'. Print Edition | Subscribe