These election results are a shambles. There’s no two ways about it. It isn’t just that this £130 million election didn’t give the increased majority the Conservatives had predicted, but the UK now has an illegitimate governing party in both numerical terms, and in light of the Tories’ thoughtless gamble on the social and political stability of this country. And have we yet looked across to the satirical vultures in Europe? We now inhabit a Tory-governed fiefdom which has lost the respect of its citizens and of its neighbours. Unsurprisingly, there are calls from all British parties for Theresa May’s resignation. But – and I know this is a big but, but it can’t be dismissed – we must allow Theresa May to lead us once again.
First of all, let’s get legal. Our constitution stipulates that until May loses control of her majority government on confidence and supply, she has the right to remain prime minister. With the prospect of the DUP settling our current hung parliament with an informal coalition deal, May has the foreseeable confidence of a majority in the Commons. The DUP will of course be listened to as an informal partner. However, as is convention, it will extract only trivial concessions from Westminster, such as pushing for a rehash of the ‘British Olympics Team’ to the ‘UK Olympics Team’. Yep, you read that right.
But in such situations, and those slightly more concerning, rest assured that Ruth Davis and her sizeable Scottish Tory lot will make their voices heard for LGBTQ rights were Arlene Foster to get too ahead of herself. And as for Brexit, for which the DUP campaigned on a hard-Brexit — an exit from the single market which is heralded by both the Brexit God himself, David Davis, and Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer — Arlene Foster wants a frictionless border with the Republic of Ireland and a free trade deal with the EU. Whether or not this turns out to be a case of ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it’, this coupled with Nigel Dodd’s refusal to take up any of May’s cabinet positions should reassure us that the DUP won’t jeopardise Westminster’s unbiased approach to Northern Irish politics since the Good Friday Agreement.
Secondly, calls for a new general election are premature and not what the country needs. We may decry the Conservatives as undeserved in their right to govern, especially with its choice of political partner. But let’s be under no allusion here; with the DUP-Conservative partnership the Tories have effectively achieved a minimum winning coalition. As the opposition, Labour would face a nigh-on impossible task to manage a coalition with the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, and Caroline Lucas. Compromises with three coalition partners would undermine effective governance, and even then the Conservatives would still hold more seats than a fanciful (queue new acronym) Labour-SNP-LD-G coalition.
But okay, let’s say we fork out another £130 million for a preemptive election later this year. The change of government that us on the left are after would not look so certain. We must remember that Labour, despite its incredible performance, is still 64 seats behind a Commons majority. We must also be confident that Labour can retain and increase its vote share in constituencies won recently with a slim plurality, e.g. Kensington (+20), while digging deeper into Tory strongholds.
Though say Corbyn pulls it out of the bag. Another change of government in the next year or two. This brings me onto my third point. What message is this sending to Brussels and what palpable difference will Labour be able to make to Brexit negotiations which at that point may be too far advanced? Any attempts at backtracking on Theresa May’s negotiations will be met with frustration on the EU’s part, and I’m sure we’ll learn very quickly, if not in the many months ahead, that the EU will only be pushed so far. If the EU is to cede anything to May, it needs to know that it can predict and have confidence in the UK’s position. If the talks are made too difficult for the EU, then know that it’ll be harder to shore up a unanimous vote from all remaining 27 EU member states in favour of extending the negotiations.
I know what you’re thinking now; “So what? That’s it? Hand over another five years to the Tories to unleash another unfettered class war? We’re just gonna let them destroy the Union and make what’s left of it a tax haven off the shores of mainland Europe?” Not at all. I believe the opposition now finds itself in an exceptional win-win scenario. There is now support across the political spectrum, even allegedly amongst senior Conservatives, for a cross-party approach to Brexit. Both the ‘Progressive Alliance’ and backbench Tories have May in a corner and will have their voices heard. Her hard-Brexit / no-deal ultimatum is a distant dream. Theresa May well be the face of this government, but we now pull its strings.
Forget class war; the civil service will soon be so overwhelmed by the mammoth task of exiting the world’s largest trading bloc that there’ll be no time to expect radical policy change to be pushed through the ministries. As such, May’s government’s one aim is to ‘make a success of Brexit’. If she loses the confidence of the Commons by the time the negotiations are either concluded, broken off, or inconclusive within the next 22 months, it’s Labour’s turn to step in.
We can take solace in this. When the next election finally arises, we’re already gifted with the rhetoric: All blame will lie on Theresa May and the Conservatives. All shortcomings in this government’s approach to Brexit will lie with this coalition of chaos.
[Originally posted 19/06/2017 in The Gryphon Views online: http://www.thegryphon.co.uk/2017/06/19/theresa-may-got-us-into-this-election-mess-now-let-her-muddle-through-it/]