I’m not going to be calling a snap election. 4/9/16
There is not going to be a general election. 30/3/17
We agreed that the government should call a general election… 18/4/17
We should be used to this sort of thing by now, but many people seem surprised. “She has gone back on her word!” they exclaim. She has been doing it since June 23.
Naturally, it’s somebody else’s fault. It’s everybody else’s fault. Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP. “Unelected members of the House of Lords.” There isn’t really anyone else, is there? Well, Caroline Lucas, but even Theresa May can’t pick on a target that small. They are all “our opponents.” They are getting in the way of Mrs May’s Brexit. They have to be rendered impotent by the power of the thumping majority she hasn’t got but will have after the general election. It is in the national interest.
This is a piece of opportunism – the Labour Party is at least 20 points behind the Tories in the polls and can hardly go lower – dressed up in the usual hypocrisy, and there is no need to think further about the reasons the Prime Minister gives for it. The reasons she doesn’t give are more interesting. One is the stranglehold a cabal of extreme right-wingers is widely assumed to be exerting on her policy. According to this assumption, one of two things will happen after the election. The first is that May will use her increased majority to cut the ground from under this cabal and go for a softer Brexit, while also being in a better position to sell to the electorate the compromises she will inevitably have to make with the EU. The second possibility is that an increased majority will enable her to go for an even harder Brexit than is being advertised.
Short of treadmills and a diet of bread and dripping, it is difficult to see what the second might entail. In Europe, where they still bask in the rays of the Enlightenment, there is hope that May would prefer the first option; however, in Britain, where that sun set last June, we understand too much about British masochism and British perversity, and we have read Orwell and know that a nightmare can always get worse. And dripping, after all, is as British as a blue passport.
Certainly – and she isn’t saying this, either – an election win, with any majority, will give May the mandate she lacks for Brexit at present. As an unelected Prime Minister, she would always suffer from the perception in some quarters that she wasn’t quite the full pound sterling. As an unelected Prime Minister pushing through a variety of Brexit that was not voted for, and almost certainly wouldn’t have been, had it been on the ballot paper, she is particularly vulnerable.
Another reason passed over in silence is that already, before the talks have started, Brexit is cracking like old concrete. Both the European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency will re-locate from London to continental Europe despite the Government’s attempts to keep them here. They will take more than 1,000 jobs with them, and a great deal of international prestige. Adding to the Government’s discomfiture, the other 27 member states unanimously agreed that trade talks with Britain cannot start until the exit terms are agreed. May’s diplomatic strategy of glower-and-threaten has largely contributed to this outcome.
And there’s everything else. Prices are going up. Immigration is not going to fall by much. The line of car manufacturers wanting a special deal to keep jobs in the UK is growing; farmers are demanding from the Government the subsidies they used to get from the EU; research scientists want the funding they will lose to be replaced; the environment can’t just be ditched although there are people who think it can; there are even the arts, shivering somewhere in a corner… And there’s only one source all this much-needed largesse can come from, which happens to be also the only source that can keep the poor old NHS afloat (remember the NHS? it was on the side of a bus once)… Where is all this bad news leading?
To an election, quick, before the damn’ thing comes off the road.
That can’t be faced. Instead, we’re told that negotiations are going to be “more difficult than the Government expected.” If it didn’t expect them to be difficult, the country is in serious need of a new government anyway because this one is incompetent. But then, we knew that. We knew from its backtracking, its refusal to answer questions, its complacency, its frequently-revealed ignorance and the seemingly endless blunders of Boris Johnson.
However, this government is far worse than incompetent. There is a flavour in Theresa May’s announcement that is frankly inadmissible in a democratic country. She cannot tolerate dissent.
In recent weeks Labour has threatened to vote against the final agreement we reach with the European Union. The Liberal Democrats have said they want to grind the business of government to a standstill.
The Scottish National Party say they will vote against the legislation that formally repeals Britain’s membership of the European Union. And unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way.
…If we do not hold a general election now, their political game-playing will continue…
The BBC’s Nick Robinson bravely challenged her on these statements, asking her how many times she had been defeated in the House (none), and pointing out that the opposition had a duty to oppose. He also reminded her that debate is normal in a democracy. Her response was typical. She denied that she wanted to crush opposition, paid lip service to the freedom to challenge the government, said that the problem was the stated intentions of the opposition parties, and went back to talking about the best possible deal. In sum: denial, a momentary hint of a dystopia in which it is criminal to think against the government, and a triumphant return to the usual meaningless fudge. The issue itself, resting on an examination of her words, was evaded. This is the May steamroller.
The future is not bright if a Prime Minister with no respect for democratic norms is returned with a large majority. Any voter who does not want to be ruled by an autocrat with an apparent sense of divine mission would be wise to vote in such a way as to avoid this fate, whatever they think about Brexit. It’s true that, in the electoral system we have, the effect of a vote is very often not what the caster of the vote intends, and there isn’t time before June 8 to reform the voting system. But the redoubtable Gina Miller, whose courage gave MPs an opportunity to challenge Article 50 which they then threw away, has some good ideas about that. See http://bit.ly/2omfK1l
Meanwhile, a bit of harmless fun can be had from the latest emission of fog from Downing Street.
The Government has the right plan for negotiating our new relationship with Europe…
Oh good. What is it?
Let everybody put forward their proposals for Brexit …
Fine. You start.
We want a deep and special partnership between a strong and successful European Union…
Deep and special, strong and successful… What we are being offered is a pizza.
As for the “opponents” who threaten to wreck Brexit: they are, of course, shadows on the wall. She put them there because she needs opponents but she has none. They rolled over. She rolled over them.
There is one point on which I agree with Theresa May.
We need a general election and we need one now, because we have at this moment a one-off chance to get this done.
Yes. We do. So let’s do it.