Friday, April 21, 2017

May’s dangerous grab for more power

A few days ago United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May stood outside her residence in Downing Street and gave a series of reasons for her spectacular about face in calling an early General Election for June 8.

She said that although the country was coming together after last year’s vote to leave the European Union, Parliament was not.

Labour had threatened to vote against a deal reached with the European Union.

The Liberal Democrats would grind the business of Government to a standstill.

The Scottish National Party would vote against the legislation that formally repealed the UK’s membership of the European Union.

The “unelected” House of Lords had vowed to fight Brexit “every step of the way”.

Every one of these statements is wrong — a series of red herrings put up in an attempt to disguise the Prime Minister’s real agenda — a blatant grab for more power.

Firstly, the country is not coming together on the issue of leaving the European Union. It is true that a recent poll put support for EU membership slightly down from the June, 2016 referendum total of 48.1 per cent, but this is hardly surprising given the stream of Brexit rhetoric that has been spewing from Ministers in the months since

“It’s all over”; “there’s no going back” has been the steady drumbeat from the Government, backed by hysterical headlines from the pro-Brexit media, more or less accusing anyone of treason for daring to question the wisdom of what is happening.

In view of this shameful harassment, it is surprising that the pro-EU lobby still stands solid at around 45 per cent.

As the main Opposition party, Labour has constantly said that it respects the referendum result, but reserves the right to criticise and seek to amend aspects of the final negotiated deal, if it feels that it is not in the country’s best interests.

That is what opposition parties do in a democracy, and it would be a disgrace if Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn were to meekly accept in advance whatever outcome is negotiated in Brussels.

The Liberal Democrats have indeed said they want to examine the final EU exit deal line by line, but with nine members in a 650-strong House of Commons, they were hardly in a position to hold up the legislation for long.

And anyway, is it not right that the most historic (and dangerous) decision taken by Parliament since World War II should be debated at length. What are days or even weeks of delay against the years of regret that a wrong decision would inevitably bring?

This same reasoning applies to the Scottish Nationalists who rightfully must represent their constituency that voted strongly to remain in the EU only to see its vote overwhelmed by England. The party currently holds almost all the Scottish seats and given the anger over May’s refusal to grant an independence referendum, then announcing a General Election they did not want, nothing is likely to change.

Finally to the House of Lords: May stressed it is an unelected chamber as if she had just found that out on the way to the podium. The Lords have been unelected in all the centuries of their existence. They are a good deal more democratic now than in the days when membership was the hereditary right of a privileged few.

Membership today is mostly through appointment by the Monarch on the recommendation of the Government. People of many walks of life are members — politicians, judges, academics, scientists, sports people, public servants.

Its task is to act as a house of review of Government legislation and it can recommend amendments, but in the end it has to bow to the will of a determined lower House of Commons.

Thus it is completely false for May to blame the Lords and the Opposition parties as the reasons she called a General Election. There was absolutely nothing that could not have been achieved though her current majority of 17 in the House of Commons.

What she and her shadowy coterie of advisers did see was the main Labour Opposition locked in a civil war over its leadership and trailing the Conservatives by something like 20 per cent in the polls — and the chance of a landslide victory that would make Parliament almost an irrelevance in future negotiations with Brussels.

There are some disturbing features emerging about May’s leadership — her constant use of the personal pronoun “I have a Government to run”; “I will take this to Brussels”, and the possessive “my Government” used endlessly.

It was present even in her election announcement: “Every vote for the Conservatives will make me stronger when I negotiate for Britain with the Prime Ministers, Presidents and Chancellors of the European Union.”

It should be remembered that only a Supreme Court ruling stopped the Prime Minister from by-passing Westminster completely and then only after a vigorous defence of this patently anti-democratic position during a failed appeal.

Supporting Remain during the referendum campaign, May switched sides with all the fanaticism of a convert and has relentlessly rammed home the Brexit message ever since. With a substantially increased majority on June 8 she will be able to ride over the opposition on any deal she could make, however rigorous the terms might be, as she hurries towards her place in history as the leader who took the nation out of the EU.

Of course history will judge her, and in the fullness of time that judgement might be harsh, but like all politicians, as opposed to statesmen, her vision is myopic and she cares only for the moment. 


  1. You are massaging the facts when you describe Labour's position on Europe, which has changed significantly in recent weeks. For sure, they can debate the issue, but their Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer has gone further than that. He now says Labour would oppose any Brexit deal that did not offer 'the exact same terms' (his words) as the UK's present arrangement. Effectively, this means that while, as you admit, support for Brexit in the country is growing (although, of course, it's all because of the beastly media), Labour will oppose any deal. The Lib-Dems, who continue to believe that anyone who supports Brexit is by definition a racist simpleton and too stupid to understand what they were voting for (a view with which I suspect you concur), have pledged to do anything they can to filibuster and thwart the will of the people. The House of Lords (why did you drape quotation marks around the word unelected? Is there any dispute about this or is it just lazy journalism?) also seems prepared to delay the process for as long as possible. All this places Mrs May's negotiators in an impossible situation, and makes her decision to call a snap 'back me or sack me' election entirely reasonable. In any case, the Fixed Parliaments Act gave Labour and the Lib-Dems the power to prevent any election taking place. They chose not to exercise this power, so it's a bit rich for you to launch such a scathing attack on Mrs May. You say she cares only for the moment. All she is trying to do is obtain the best Brexit deal for the British people. You would have thought Labour and the Lib-Dems should be uniting to help her fulfil the will of the people. As a side issue, you talk about a stream of rhetoric spewing from the Brexiteers. Interestingly, though, I don't believe you have ever acknowledged that virtually every pre-Brexit claim, made by politicians, US Presidents, the IMF, the EU and Uncle Tom Cobley has proved wrong, the exception being the fall in the value of the pound, which seems to have given British industry a shot in the arm.

  2. The quotes around 'unelected' were May's not mine. I am also a little tired of this 'will of the people' thing. It was certainly the will of the people on 23 June 2016, but the majority was small enough to suggest that the people deserve another chance to exercise their will again and maybe change their minds when the terms of Brexit and the reality of what the UK will be after leaving the EU are known.