Theresa May's deputy says Tories weren't ready to fight British election

Damian Green arrives for a weekly meeting of cabinet ministers at No. 10 Downing Street in London on Sept 5, 2017.
Damian Green arrives for a weekly meeting of cabinet ministers at No. 10 Downing Street in London on Sept 5, 2017. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Theresa May's Conservative Party wasn't ready to fight the snap British election when she called it, one of her closest allies has said, in a new autopsy of the political gamble that backfired.

Damian Green, who is May's deputy, said Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party was in a better position for the contest because it had prepared for it while the Tories hadn't.

The Cabinet minister's comments come in new book - Betting the House: The Inside Story of the 2017 Election, written by Bloomberg News British government reporter Tim Ross and Tom McTague, a British journalist for Politico. In the book, Tory strategists praise Corbyn's campaign machine while reflecting on their own mistakes.

"We called a snap election and our troops weren't ready," said First Secretary of State Green, a long-standing friend of May. "None of us was expecting a snap election, but Labour were."

The ongoing recriminations over May's failed election campaign are likely to boost May's rivals and opponents at a sensitive time. The loss of her party's majority in June's vote undermined the prime minister's authority over the government and has allowed Tory colleagues to begin plotting to succeed her.

For example, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson set out what political observers saw as a pitch for the top job in a 4,000-word article for the Tory-supporting Daily Telegraph newspaper on Saturday.

Plots and Gossip May will seek to regain the initiative with a major speech on Brexit in Florence, Italy, on Sept 22, before the Conservative Party holds its annual conference in Manchester in October.

The four-day conference is an occasion for potential leadership candidates to parade in front of party members, while their allies plot and gossip over dinner and drinks receptions on the sidelines.

The cloud hanging over the conference will be the spectacular failure of May's election gamble earlier this year - and the question of how long she can last in her job.

At the start of the short election campaign, Jim Messina, a former aide to United States President Barack Obama who worked for May, predicted the Tories would win 470 seats. This would have been enough for a vast parliamentary majority of 290, according to the book, which is being serialised by the Mail on Sunday newspaper.

But a combination of strategic mistakes by Tories and an effective campaign from the left-wing Labour leader and his huge army of activists delivered a major shock. May lost her majority altogether and now has to run Britain with a minority government, propped up by Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party; Corbyn's party finished with 30 more seats, narrowing the gap with the Conservatives.

Even Lynton Crosby, the election consultant who helped run the Tory campaign, was impressed with the opposition.

"Labour had an infrastructure in place," Crosby told Ross and McTague. "You can have the best techniques in the world and all the money you want, but it doesn't matter if you can't get people out to vote on the day."