May’s day will fall on June 8 this year, as she steers Britain through what is ostensibly the Brexit election. But if one thinks that mother will be generous, well…
British Prime Minister Theresa May’s surprising, though not astonishing, announcement that she would ask Parliament for a general election on June 8 comes on the heels of a soul-searching referendum ten months ago, in which Britain voted to leave its EU partner of 42 years.
This was followed by a prolonged period of absorbing the complexities of this undertaking, which has left many in government looking like a startled emoji. A London-centric Brexit industry of bureaucrats, lawyers, lobbyists and consultants has grown exponentially as a result.
Frustrated by accusations of “ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking” from Britain’s former top EU civil servant Sir Ivan Rogers, and by a divided Conservative party with a small majority in Parliament, May used the extolled virtues of a walking holiday over Easter – on the hills of Snowdonia – to conclude “reluctantly” that she would call the general election she promised would not happen before 2020.
For all intents and purposes, this will be the Brexit election. Of the many positions from which May is willing to negotiate Brexit, over a barrel is not one of them. So Britain’s Mother Theresa has promised to devote herself tirelessly to the wellbeing of her nation, but with a pair of pliers to de-claw all manner of Brexit objectors and Brexit hardliners, and a boot that may even kick out Boris Johnson if she can deliver a landslide victory.
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The vicar’s daughter has laid down the gauntlet to all Remainers, both in the political and private sector. Like the blackmailer urging his victim to reconsider his behaviour, she has demanded that they absolve themselves of their legitimate concerns in favour of the national interest.
And with a populist flourish – “the country is coming together but Westminster is not” – she berated her democratic institutions for undermining the will of the people. These include not only the opposition Labour Party, Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party, but also the “unelected” members of the upper Parliamentary Chamber, the House of Lords. In exercising their parliamentary sovereignty to scrutinise the Brexit process, their Lordships were, it seems, flouting the wishes of the 51% who had clamoured to regain precisely this autonomy.
May’s call for a snap election resonates with as much integrity as the game of politics allows. Her call may smack of dastardly opportunism, but only an unhealthy dose of self doubt could ignore today’s ripe mixture of political potential for the Conservative Party.
After all, the opposition is in tatters; the Labour Party is more than 20 points behind in the polls and the Liberal Democrats hold only eight Parliamentary seats – down from 57 at the general election two years ago.
What’s more, consumer confidence, job and economic growth, and the country’s still resilient finances, despite the dire predictions of the referendum result, have boosted the means of persuading the electorate to vote Tory. A victory for May under these circumstances could bring her the closest a British leader has come to ruling over a one-party state.
This is both a referendum and voter make-over. The odds are comfortably in May’s favour, albeit in an age of the politically unthinkable. So like another unassuming but wily pastor’s daughter, Mother Theresa might end up with Mutti Merkel’s other skill – staying power.
Nevertheless, this seemingly impregnable position carries its own set of risks. There has been scant evidence of buyer’s remorse from Brexit voters and an audible harrumphing concession that Brexit is here to stay by some Remainers. But Britain’s voters on June 8 will be an assortment difficult to categorise by an already distrusted polling system. Those who neglected to have their say in the EU referendum could well vote against May, and Remainers who see no alternative leader, might not.
And demographics might matter. As Baroness Liz Symons recently indicated in the House of Lords, the majority of 500,000 teenagers who have celebrated their eligibility to vote since the EU referendum are pro-Remain, while a similar number of over 65’s who voted to leave, have done so, beyond this life.
Europhiles and Labour supporters will also be in a quandary of whether to vote for May, and thereby allow her to control the radical Brexiteers pushing for a free-fall Brexit, or to teach her one more lesson in coalition governance with a party that is opposed to Brexit itself.
This is both a referendum and voter make-over. The odds are comfortably in May’s favour, albeit in an age of the politically unthinkable. So like another unassuming but wily pastor’s daughter who has used her penchant for home-bound peregrinations to learn to tread the ruts of competing political agendas, Mother Theresa might end up with Mutti Merkel’s other skill – staying power.
Or might “June put an end to May”, as one Remainer recently wished for on social media? In the Prime Minister’s words: “Let us tomorrow vote for an election, let us put forward our plans for Brexit and our alternative programmes for government…”
All well and good, if only the electorate knew what that meant.