Theresa May’s sudden call for a General Election – to be held on June 8th – caught many by surprise.
Having previously said on multiple occasions that she didn’t intend to hold another election, she suddenly changed her mind.
The question is why.
Some have quickly suggested that, aside from seeking to strengthen her mandate and legitimize her position, she may be seeking the opportune moment to destroy what’s left of the Labour Party, with Jeremy Corbyn‘s party doing so badly now in polls.
While the previous General Election – just two years ago – resulted in the decimation of the Liberal Democrats across the UK, this one might (according to analysts) see Labour virtually eliminated from Parliament, leaving the current Tory government even better placed to enact whatever their plans are (and I’ve already speculated on what I think the general nature of those plans – and Brexit – might be).
It’s worth noting that the Fixed Term Parliament is designed to stop Prime Ministers or governments from just calling an election whenever their poll ratings are highly favorable or their opposition’s ratings are extremely low.
There’s a couple of questions.
Firstly, I wonder why Theresa May waited until after triggering Article 50 to call this snap election. Second, wouldn’t it make more sense to complete negotiations with the EU, come back to the British electorate with a prospective deal and then trigger a General Election in which the electorate can choose to support that deal or not?
At that point, the opposition parties can be offering their alternative approaches and the people can decide whether to vote for one of those alternatives or to stick with May’s plan.
Instead, by calling the election now, there are no clear or solid alternative plans to choose from and the picture Theresa May paints is that the electorate either needs to have total, absolute faith in *her* or plunge the country’s future into chaos and uncertainty. In other words, it’s ‘my way or the highway’.
This strangely authoritarian attitude is reinforced by the fact she had said she doesn’t intend to participate in any televised debates.
She knows that this entire election will be dominated by Brexit and she knows that neither Labour or the Lib Dems are very capable right now of having a strong plan – because they’re not involved in the triggering of Article 50 or the negotiations.
They are therefore at a disadvantage and the high ground is all Theresa May’s.
Besides that, the mass media assassination of Jeremy Corbyn is still very much going on and will no doubt continue right through to June 8th, meaning that Corbyn and Labour will be fighting a massive uphill struggle all the way: and any continued arguments Corbyn makes about workers’ rights, social services or anything else will be drowned out by coverage about his ‘lack of charisma’ or about Labour Party in-fighting – even at a time when it is being reported, for example, that Theresa May’s welfare cuts ‘will help push almost one million more children into relative poverty by 2022′.
Some will argue Theresa May is doing the right thing in calling for an election.
Others suspect dishonourable motives. Anne Perkins wrote in The Guardian the day the election was announced; ‘This is no general election, it’s a coup – MPs have a duty to stop Theresa May. She has made a Scottish referendum inevitable, and a border poll in Northern Ireland infinitely more likely. She is resetting politics in a way that will entrench division. We will all rue this day.’
If the idea of an election as a coup seems a little knee-jerk, Theresa May’s own statement seems to evoke the tone of a hostile takeover bid. The Prime Minister’s statement on Tuesday revealed a hostile attitude towards political opposition in general and parliament in particular. ‘This is the right approach, and it is in the national interest. But the other political parties oppose it. At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division. The country is coming together, but Westminster is not,’ she said, sounding less like a democratic leader with a respect for parliament, debate and process and more like a President Erdogan who’s become fed up of – even disdainful of – democratic impediments, debate and opposition politicians.
‘They under-estimate our determination to get the job done and I am not prepared to let them endanger the security of millions of working people across the country,’ she says; and it is clear from her full statement that she is talking about the Labour Party, the Lib Dems and the SNP, as well as Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords.
Note that she doesn’t have a problem with the House of Lords as a body – just the fact that there are too many Lib Dems in it right now and she wants to fill it with her own people.
May seems to be adopting the same tone and encouraging the same atmosphere that the right-wing press reveled in during the referendum debates, perceiving perhaps that she can tap into or galvanise those same sections of the electorate (and media) to bolster her position and remove as much opposition from parliament as possible.
The Daily Mail, which last year gave us the infamous ‘Enemies of the People’ headline when the independent judiciary ruled in favor of parliamentary democracy, this time gives us a triumphal ‘CRUSH THE SABOTEURS!’
Curiously, when asked in parliament whether she would denounce The Daily Mail’s distasteful headline, the Prime Minister shrugged it off and said “we have a free press in this country”. Note that this is the same Theresa May who previously authorised the arrest and detainment of journalists and whisteblowers under the ‘Terrorism Act’.
While my earlier comparison to Erdogan might seem a little far-fetched, I’m going to double-down on that comparison here for the sake of illustrating a point. I am NOT saying that Erdogan or Mrs May are the same or that the situation in Turkey is comparable to the situation in the UK. But the kind of language used by the right-wing press, particularly the Daily Mail (‘Enemies of the People’, ‘Crush the Saboteurs’), is entirely in-line with the kind of language displayed by pro-Erdogan, pro-AKP media in Turkey in their coordinated quest to alter the Turkish constitution and political system and to change the very nature of Turkish society.
Moreover, some of the same media – and politicians – who, this week, might’ve been pouring scorn on the scanty 51% that Erdogan scored on the ‘yes’ vote for the constitutional referendum in Turkey are the same media that labels as ‘saboteurs’ or ‘enemies of the people’ anyone who questions the equally scanty 52% of Brits who voted yes to leaving the EU.
I already laid out, when Article 50 was triggered, why I think Mrs May and her government are so attached to “the will of the people” and to blocking any interference in her government’s specific vision of Brexit (whatever that vision is).
Theresa May has in fact been labelled – albeit in tongue-in-cheek fashion – as something of a ‘tyrant’ a few times before.
But there’s a serious dimension to this characterisation as well. After all, Theresa May isn’t some nice old lady who popped up to take care of Brexit, but is, among other things, the mother of the draconian Snoopers’ Charter, which was built under her patronage and finally brought through under her Brexit government (and opposed fully by the EU for its violation of civil liberties).
In 2013 she also introduced legislation to allow ‘Secret Courts’ in which the state can prosecute citizens without allowing them to know the charge, see the evidence or even take part in the hearing. She has – and has had, even prior to becoming Prime Minister – many critics and opponents within parliament: including former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, who, during the Tory/Lib-Dem coalition government, repeatedly clashed with Mrs May over, for example, her authorising the detention of journalists.
She is regarded, in short, as being a pretty ruthless sort of politician.
On the surface of it, this election might seem like a fair idea. After all, with so much professed division in the country, why not give the electorate the chance to confirm their support for the Brexit government or, as it may be, switch their support to the Lib Dems or to Labour or elsewhere, either of which would drastically alter the course or tone of the Brexit?
But in waiting for an opportune moment in which the government’s poll lead is so uncommonly high (and in which the opposition parties are poorly prepared for an election) May is looking to consolidate the Tory government’s hold on power and neutralise or weaken all opposition – Labour, Lib Dems, SNP – for the next five years, giving her government maximum control of parliament for that time period.
In effect, it could create a one-party parliament.
What’s important to realise – and it’s the reason I’m concerned about what may happen here – is that this has implications beyond just Brexit and the EU.
This would effect not just the Brexit negotiations and the type of departure from the EU we end up with, but could effect all kind of other things, from workers’ rights, the NHS and the general post-Brexit agenda to the future of Scotland, a return to Direct Rule in Northern Ireland, practical implementation of Theresa May’s Snoopers’ Charter, or even British action in Syria or in regard to Russia.
That last point is especially significant, given the current tensions – and the actor and pretend Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, on Tuesday already suggested in parliament that the British government would be virtually duty-bound to join the United States if President Trump decided to go to war in Syria.
In this highly uncertain time we’re in – in which anything could happen, both internationally, geo-politically and domestically – it would be the worst time to have a parliament lacking opposition figures or democratic checks and balances. As an example, I always like to cite the fact that Ed Miliband and his Labour Party in 2013 were what stopped Western military intervention for regime-change in Syria. That kind of democratic intervention in policy often doesn’t happen, of course – but do we want a situation where it can’t happen at all?
That could be where we’re headed, if we’re not careful.
On the other hand, in theory, this could backfire on her – that is, if Labour under Jeremy Corbyn can stage an upset or the Lib Dems can effectively galvanise the Remain vote – but most projections suggest the Conservatives will be set for a resounding victory, which is the only reason why the PM has called for it.
Very good analysis overall with some interesting points made, but I think you’ve missed the major reason why May called the election: the treat of the Tories ultra-slim 17 seat majority being lost by the investigation into the electoral expenses of 25-30 Conservative MPs. If they’re found to have been fraudulent then the Tories would have found themselves with a bunch of by-elections on their hands and a huge amount of bad press. Calling a snap election essentially buries this bad news. It’s quite a shrewd political move by May, and in any country with a free press the above would have been jumped on by the media. Unfortunately, apart from the Mirror, the Guardian and the Independent, the rest of the press essentially are Tory mouthpieces. Even the BBC is biased against Labour, and thereby subtly promotes the incumbent government. Hence we don’t hear very much at all in the press about the electoral expenses scandal.
Thanks Rod Zilla, and that’s a really good observation you’ve made – which I neglected to factor into the article. That said, I heard a couple of days ago that the results of that investigation might actually be made public a few days prior to June 8th. I might be wrong – I’ll have to look into it again. But, if that’s the case, then Theresa May’s plan may backfire.
There is no doubt that this is pure opportunism. She thinks she can crush the opposition and become a de facto dictator as you say. But there are other internal pressures here too. There are those election expenses scandals that would have become a major embarrassment and potentially a serious threat to the government majority. And there are unseen forces within the Tory ranks that have yet to be resolved. The party remains deeply fractured and May’s coronation simply papered over the cracks. For instance, pro-EU Bilderberger Ken Clarke is a tremendously influential figure who has publicly vowed to fight on.
For now, May is trying to give the impression that she wants to push through a “hard Brexit” in order to differentiate herself and the party from her opponents. But listen to Amber Rudd on a recent Newsnight or Steven Norris on Galloway’s Sputnik and it becomes clear I think that this previous “remainer” (has she really changed her spots?) is also hoping to quell opposition from more the hardline euroskeptic ranks of her own party.
Whatever happens, though, if the Tories do get a landslide victory then the country will be bled dry regardless of if she negotiates for a “hard” or “soft” Brexit (stupid terms in my opinion but still). The only hope is that Corbyn can pull off another minor miracle and that people aren’t fooled into voting for the Liberals who already betrayed us and were still propping up a dreadful Tory government just two years ago. There is simply no justification for voting in the lesser of two evils this time around (unless in a Tory-Lib Dem marginal). There is now one evil and it is vital we vote in Labour to stop it – or at least to diminish its effects.
Good points. I differ with you in the sense that I never saw the Lib Dems as propping up the Tory government. The Lib Dems being there, from what I understand, spared us the EU referendum for five years as well as the Snooper’s Charter. I’m going to be honest here too; I’ve genuinely become less and less opposed to the idea of international unions and their potential to solve some of the world’s enduring problems. Which is not to say that the EU – in its present form – is anything great; but I can’t really knock someone like Ken Clarke too hard, as – from what I’ve seen from him over the years – he generally does seem a genuine believer in the European project and he isn’t supporting it for career purposes.
Fair points. I too am strongly in favour of internationalism (that’s an ordinary leftist position anyway) but am equally strongly opposed to globalisation. The EU – whatever its founding principles – is today an organ of globalisation. It is supranational rather than international body: an anti-democratic technocracy and an arm of the wider corporatocracy. If it was reformable I would favour reform too as Varoufakis does – but I see no evidence that this is achievable. Can’t stand the Lib Dems either having voted for them twice when they appeared a less bellicose more humane alternative to Blair. But I can never forgive their Con-Dem betrayal. They didn’t need to sign up to coalition government under a new manifesto but could have formed a pact instead or else have left the Tories to stew in their own minority government juice (my preferred choice!)
Wow, someone completely locked into the left-right paradigm, discussing ‘politics’ as if there were no hidden hands, delving into the faux detail that has so many in its grip, and in doing so reinforcing the false reality. Note that no alternatives are offered, that the usurious stranglehold of false ‘made-up-money’ debt is not decried, that May’s and other governments have not only failed to tackle organised high-level paedophilia but have done their best to cover it up, thereby encouraging this foulest of insults to the human race. Search “Melanie Shaw”, “Hollie Greig”, search “Met Police Officer Gagged re Paedophilia”, watch any of the UKColumn’s daily videos.
Most thinking human beings sense there is something utterly wrong with all of this, put can’t put their finger on it. We find solace in the Olive Farmer Crete blog.
Since the day she was slotted into the post of PM I’ve been convinced she is Thatcher 2.0 and this cynical and calculated snap election for me confirms this. And you are right the very future of devolution, not just for Scotland but Wales too, is in real jeopardy. Recently at the Scottish Tory conference she basically said as much, she not only wants to consolidate her power at Westminster she wants to return the UK to pre devolution days with a power grab of returning powers from the EU. I do think though she will have to treat N Ireland differently, if we leave the EU with a hard Brexit, as they will have a land border with a European Member it creates a real problem for her. Sinn Fiens recent success I think indicates that reunification may be on the cards when the Brexit deal is finalised.
As for the global situation I completely agree an unopposed Tory government will be the first in the queue to join the US in any war they want to start – no humiliating defeat in parliament like Cameron had to suffer. So for me this election isn’t just about Brexit (or even the home policies of the various parties) its about the global threat of war with the only adults in the room – Russia and China.
These are certainly interesting times and if the many don’t wake up to the few’s dastardly plans soon who knows where it will end – Trumps first few months in the White House have already moved the doomsday clock closer to midnight.