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May adopts contrite tone after Tory MPs vent anger over election

Prime minister apologises to Tories who lost seats and reaffirms top cabinet posts in DUP-backed minority government

A chastened Theresa May has apologised to her party colleagues, after squandering the Conservatives majority with an ill-fated snap general election, forcing her to turn to Northern Irelands Democratic Unionist party for backing.

A surge in support for Jeremy Corbyns Labour party and its anti-austerity message drove the Conservatives into retreat, leaving them unable to form a majority government alone.

Labour won the last seat to declare, Kensington and Chelsea, meaning it had 262 MPs and the Conservatives 318 MPs. The prime minister will seek to govern with the help of the DUPs 10 MPs.

In a contrite interview, May said: I wanted to achieve a larger majority. That was not the result we secured. And Im sorry for all those candidates and hard-working party workers who werent successful, but also for those colleagues who were MPs and ministers and contributed so much to our country and who lost their seats and who didnt deserve to lose their seats.

Her explicit apology came after some colleagues were infuriated by an earlier statement in Downing Street that failed to acknowledge the disastrous election result, which many regard as self-inflicted.

After returning from Buckingham Palace, where she received the Queens blessing to form a government, May had promised to provide certainty, and urged her colleagues: Lets get to work.

The prime minister received the staunch backing of pro-Brexit MPs, including Brexit secretary David Davis, amid fears that the election result could stall the process of leaving the European Union, with formal talks due to start within 10 days.

Steve Baker, chair of the influential pro-Brexit European Research Group of backbench MPs, said: My principal thought is that its essential that Conservative MPs support Theresa May as prime minister and make it possible to form the most stable government possible.

But throughout the day, the prime minister faced a growing public backlash from MPs and defeated candidates, who expressed their fury publicly at the way the campaign was run, and the secretive, controlling management style of Mays joint chiefs of staff: Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy.

Nicky Morgan, who was sacked as education secretary by May, said: Im reeling. I think were all reeling. I think theres real fury against the campaign and the buck stops at the top.

She said it was right for the prime minister to continue in office for the time being, but added: I think she wont fight another election and I think eventually, whether it takes weeks or months, we will have to look at the leadership.

Other MPs speculated openly about the likelihood that May could be forced to call another election within months, as she struggles to govern with a wafer-thin majority, even with the backing of the DUP.

Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative MP for Totnes and former chair of the Commons health committee, said: I do think she should stay on but I wouldnt be surprised if we end up having another election soon and people will be absolutely appalled by it.

May, who used a threat of a Labour-led coalition of chaos as a key attack line during the campaign, will not enter into a formal deal with the DUP but hopes to win its backing on a vote-by-vote basis. She is expected to address parliamentary colleagues next week in a bid to shore up support.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron accused her of trying to form her own coalition of chaos. He said: She put her party before her country. She has been found out. She should be ashamed.

She has brought weakness and uncertainty. If she has an ounce of self-respect she will resign.

In a sign of the prime ministers weakened authority, she reappointed the five senior cabinet members Amber Rudd, Davis, Boris Johnson, Philip Hammond and Michael Fallon despite expectations that Hammond, and perhaps Johnson, could be moved aside if she enhanced her majority.

One cabinet source said May had offered them a reassurance that things will be changing, and a remark in her television interview that she would announce further personnel changes was read by insiders as a hint that she could be ready to sacrifice Hill and Timothy. The pair were not in their usual place at her side in No 10 on Friday night, Downing Street insiders said.

More junior appointments are expected to be made at the weekend as the prime minister replaces frontbenchers who lost their seats including Ben Gummer, the former Ipswich MP who was one of the key authors of the ill-fated manifesto, and housing minister Gavin Barwell, who lost Croydon Central.

While Labour fell well short of a parliamentary majority, Corbyns team believe the result was a vindication of their upbeat, anti-cuts message, and will seek to obstruct fresh austerity measures, including Tory manifesto policies such as means-testing the winter fuel allowance, in the voting lobbies.

A spokesman for Corbyn said: We will be using the changed parliamentary arithmetic to drive home the fact that the Tory programme for five more years of austerity will not go on as before.

Labour was invigorated by an upbeat campaign, which saw the party leader address scores of mass rallies, and resulted in many MPs significantly increasing their majorities.

Longtime Conservative seats, including Canterbury in Kent, were snatched by a resurgent Labour, which polled 40% of the vote, with the Conservatives on 42%, as minor parties were squeezed. The increase in Labours vote share was the largest for any party between two general elections since 1945.

Corbyns colleagues, including those who had previously expressed strong criticism of his leadership, praised his campaign. Owen Smith, who challenged Corbyn for the party leadership last summer after saying he was unfit for the job, said: I take my hat off to him, Chuka Umunna, the Streatham MP previously considered a potential leadership challenger, said he would consider accepting a role in a Corbyn-led shadow cabinet.

In Scotland the Scottish National party lost 21 of its 56 seats, including those of party heavyweights Angus Robertson and Alex Salmond, with the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour all making gains.

Nicola Sturgeons dramatic demand for a second independence referendum before the UK leaves the EU appeared not to have enthused the electorate.

Ruth Davidsons Scottish Conservatives, who put preserving the union at the centre of their campaign, achieved the best Tory result in Scotland since 1983. Davidson pointedly tweeted a recent speech she made about gay marriage on Friday, after Mays announcement that she would work closely with the socially conservative DUP, which is opposed to gay marriage.

One explanation for Labours better-than-expected performance was its success in picking up a share of the votes lost by Ukip, which withdrew from many seats and saw its support collapse in others. Corbyns party has made a deliberate populist pitch for left behind voters; and sought to neutralise the issue of Brexit by backing Mays legislation triggering Article 50.

Ukip leader Paul Nuttall announced on Friday that he would be stepping down, after less than a year in the post, prompting speculation that Nigel Farage could step back into the role. In a speech in London, Nuttall promised his party would continue to be the guard dogs of Brexit in the months ahead.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jun/09/theresa-may-hopes-to-remain-pm-as-voters-deliver-hung-parliament

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