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First, the big news: Parliament is happily dissolved! Less than a year after the amazing Brexit vote, snap elections have officially been scheduled for June 8. That’s within a year of a new government: and within two years of the previous general election.
The last time the British electorate voted twice within four years was 1974: Labour beat the Tories twice that year. That, of course, led to the ouster of the Tory loser and the rise of the Great Lady to Tory leadership. If you believe statesmanship is called forth in such troubled times, you might see Theresa May as the confident warrior this time around. At any rate, three important elections in two years add up to a good show of both British moderation in politics and the seriousness of the political changes. It is hard to disagree with the PM: This is the most important election in her lifetime.
Here’s the brief speech of the British PM after visiting with the Queen:
May has for the first time attacked openly the bureaucrats who run the EU, as election meddlers. This is to prepare what I will signal below, what it ultimately means for the PM to have a strong hand in negotiation with the member states of the EU. It is prudent to offer a first sense of the common good of the UK over against the foreigners. This will show even more in the campaign: Her opponents have unwisely allied themselves with the EU by blaming the government for Brexit, by predicting a British economic catastrophe in the event of Brexit and a comparative EU success, and by not offering any solutions to the political crisis that might attract the electorate.
So let’s talk British politics on the eve of the elections. There’s no obvious path for Labour to form even a coalition government in a hung Parliament, given how things look now. Thus the negative purpose of this election: To beat both Labour and UKIP badly, even if the Lib-Dems win some votes and seats as the opposition party for the anti-Brexit electorate. This would not be much of worry, since the Lib-Dems imploded politically, being reduced to nine seats in the last general election. When they lose on the Brexit issue, they will again lose some of their potential to grow.
That said, it is not impossible that the Lib-Dems will become the Opposition in the next generation, given the recent Labour catastrophes at all levels, which surpass anything else in recent British politics. Mr. Corbyn’s leadership of Labour is hurting the party electorally, angering immensely the previous leadership without destroying its influence, and continuing the trend that separates the working class electorate from the welfare-state party.
At the same time, nobody seems to be thinking what opposition to the Tories will mean after Brexit, when there will be more calls for patriotism or nationalism or the local UK problems. For an example of the last, Labour has recently been wiped out in Scotland. A change in the opposition party hasn’t happened in a century, since Labour emerged as the party of welfare, nationalizations, and a controlled economy, so it’s unlikely, but times are strange.
The positive purpose of the snap election is threefold:
- To commit the Tories to Brexit, which the MPs did not really support, especially not the former leadership, which campaigned against it. (It has to be said, the Tory electorate is for Brexit. Also, this is a chance to win over the UKIP electorate, which was at about 14 percent in the last election, and thus secure some more seats.)
- To get an electoral mandate for Brexit. This is much more important than it would seem as a matter of formality, because in a democracy formality must always rely on public sentiment. Mrs. May was not only not elected as PM, but she stood for the Tory leadership last year and became PM without having supported Brexit. The power of democracy over the minds of politicians is the only thing that is leading to this Brexit, given that Parliament and the sophisticated, successful classes are against it. So this is about democracy vs. oligarchy, ultimately. The people have a chance to impose their will and the PM is wise enough to look strengthen the formalities of English politics by that imposition.
- To unify Britain. The expectation here is to beat the SNP, in the sense that the Scottish nationalists will win fewer votes and seats than in 2015. This would seal the question of a second Scottish referendum occurring anytime soon. Further, Northern Ireland is not committed electorally to the new government either–if support for the UK polls better than in the previous elections, that might suffice to quiet the discontent. Last, Wales is fairly loyal the UK electorally, but some electoral confirmation is always welcome.
For fans of democratic politics, the snap elections in themselves are a joy to behold. In 2011, the political oligarchy in Britain agreed on a fair-competition policy known as the Fixed-term Parliament Act. That was a Lib-Dem-Tory conspiracy. This meant a government would not be able to appeal to the people before or after a major political decision, which has been the way to get democratic consent in Britain for a long time, and is essential to the constitution of Britain, rightly understood. This is the first time that abominable act is tested, and democracy has won, I’m happy to report. Labour, which campaigned against Brexit in an odd alliance with the previous Tory government, has voted for elections which it is sure to lose badly. The PM needed a two-thirds majority, according to the abominable act, and got far more.
Aside from what might soon be called the madness of Mr. Corbyn, there is a basic problem of credibility: What opposition leader could cry his heart out against the government and then declare himself afraid of the people’s act of will, the vote? Who can ask the people to make him PM, but not just now, please? Indeed, only 13 MPs dared voted against elections… Hopefully, this abomination of a law will soon be repealed.
Further, here is the similar brief speech the PM made two weeks back, after deciding on the snap elections.
The PM wisely noted that negotiations would be between herself and the elected politicians of the European countries, not with the EU. This is how it should be, according to both political principle and Treaty, inasmuch as that means anything. This will have to be stressed–it will have to be part of the Tory campaign to disarm the pretensions and speeches and leaks of the EU bureaucrats. There are votes in this, and there is democratic dignity to be asserted.
Notice that the speeches of the PM are a combination of populism with political moderation. She challenges the opposition and the EU bureaucrats, while stressing that the government aims at a reasonable arrangement, not a quarrel. This is a chance for Britain to put democracy back into politics and back into the declared purpose of government policy. This is a necessity that returns to politics constantly, and which has been neglected for a long time.
Finally, if you want the best writing I’ve found on who Mrs. May is, and what kind of person, here’s a thoughtful, somewhat rueful review of the recent biography of the PM.
If you want to see what Mrs. May is like in the press, here’s an interview with Andrew Marr over on YouTube, who is what you’d expect. You will notice the differences with American political interviews. I will write on politicians and the press as soon as I can make time–in a season of elections, it might be interesting.