Theresa May: An Unstoppable Undemocratic Disaster in a Dismal Brexit Britain Without Adequate Opposition
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In these three weeks, I’ve been interested to note, I’ve met many other people who have felt the same, and who, like me, are refusing to watch the news any more — not just because it’s depressing to have to keep watching May and her fellow pro-Brexit ministers attempting to justify their idiocy, but also because of the bias of those bringing the news to us — the horribly corrupt BBC above all, with right-wing mouthpieces like the dreadful Laura Kuennsberg pretending to be journalists rather than stenographers for those in power, and with programmes like Question Time persistently giving far too much airtime to right-wing panel members and audiences.
Those of us who are so sickened that we’ve switched off are, of course, all Remainers, and we all know — not believe, know — that Brexit is an unprecedented disaster, that racism and xenophobia are out in the open now, poisoning our streets, and, along with our now-broken reputation for tolerance, we also know that far too many of our fellow citizens are flag-waving fantasists, longing for a golden age that never was, but that, in their minds, actually existed and, crucially, involved no foreigners. We also know that our economy is already in a self-inflicted decline, as the everyday cost of living is already noticeably more expensive than it was last June, a situation that can only get worse. We also despair that May and the Tories are so popular, and despair of the plight that Labour has dug itself into, with an unelectable leader, however worthy he is.
I’ve spent some of the last three weeks wondering if this detachment would lead to new ways of challenging the runaway Juggernaut that is Theresa May and her bloodless zombie enthusiasm for as destructive a break with Europe as is possible, or if we, the 48%, the 16.1 million UK citizens who voted to remain in the EU, would have to end up reluctantly retreating from politics as so many of us did in the 1980s.
I still don’t know the answer to that question, but as I returned from nearly a week away — with friends in Stroud, for 24 hours, and then, for four days, in a cottage in the Brecon Beacons, when the horror of having to look at May’s undead face or to listen to a tide of everyday bigots had been almost completely forgotten — I suddenly discovered that May had now added “total hypocrite” to the long roll-call of her failings, calling a General Election on June 8, even though she has no excuse to do so under the laws her own party brought in after the 2010 election to guarantee fixed five-year terms for parliaments, and even though, since running for leader last June, she has persistently said that she would not call an election.
As the Guardian explained, in a wonderfully hard-hitting editorial:
Britain does not need, and its people are not demanding, this general election. There is no crisis in the government. Mrs May is not losing votes in the Commons. The House of Lords is not defying her. No legislation is at risk. There is no war and no economic crisis. Brexit is two years away. The press are not clamouring for an early election.
And yet, as the Guardian added, it is now happening “solely because Mrs May sees Conservative partisan advantage in making it happen.” As the editorial proceeded to explain,
“As U-turns go, it is an absolute screecher. The smell of rubber on the Downing Street black top is acrid and foul. Judgments about Mrs May will never be quite the same, and deservedly so. She has built her authority by being, and by appearing to be, a leader who plays straight, gets on with the job and takes politics seriously … But now there is a new dimension to Mrs May. She is now a party political leader whose words can’t be trusted at face value as much, and for whom politics is, after all, a game. The Tory party may win, if opinion polls can be believed, because Mrs May is trusted far more than Mr Corbyn. But the loss to wider politics ought to be severe. The damage inflicted by the hypocrisy of the apparently sincere is more serious than the damage inflicted by the transparently untrustworthy.”
The Guardian’s editorial added:
Some of Mrs May’s reasons for calling the election are particularly unacceptable. To say, as she did, that a poll is needed because “division at Westminster” is causing “damaging uncertainty and instability” sails troublingly close to being a Thames Valley version of the sort of thing that President Erdoğan might say in Turkey. Division in parliament is necessary and inherent, above all on something as momentous as the Brexit terms. Brexit reflects life-influencing divisions in the country. Mrs May’s decision and language illustrate the damage that referendums do to parliamentary democracy.
The election is also an invitation to voters to buy Mrs May’s Brexit terms sight unseen. She said … that she wants support “for the decisions I must take”. But we do not know what those decisions will be. They depend on negotiations that have barely begun with some EU partners who face elections of their own, as well as on events. All this will involve give and take. Mrs May is seeking a mandate to do something of which not even she knows the main planks, the details and the trade-offs. She wants to get parliament off her back in making the Brexit terms. This election must ensure that this does not happen.
Many things may change over the coming weeks. At this early stage the danger is that the 2017 election may be less a contest about who should govern and more a contest about how much power the voters are willing to entrust to Mrs May. The Tory manifesto will have to be watched like a hawk; it will be an unusually crucial document. This is a premature election which the country does not need, the people do not want and Mrs May does not require in order to do her job effectively. Above all else, this election must not write her a blank cheque over Europe.
The Guardian also shone a light on what happened yesterday when MPs voted on May’s decision. Just a third of MPs could have derailed it by voting against it, but in the end only 13 MPs did, with 522 others voting to allow it, including the SNP and the Liberal Democrats, who both hope to gain from it, and probably will (in the former case, strengthening the chances of a second independence referendum, and in the latter, creating the very real possibility that Tory MPs in constituencies that voted Remain will turn to — or revert to — the Lib Dems), and the Labour Party also going along with it, even though it could well be a disaster for them. As the Guardian noted, however, the Labour Party, currently, is too intimidated and fatalistic to have seen the importance of resistance.
What happens next? Well, who knows? I reluctantly sense that I will have to wake up from my slumber and engage, but how, exactly, has yet to become apparent. As Ian Dunt, the author of the very necessary book, Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now? has explained, “May has called a referendum on Jeremy Corbyn and is going to pretend the result is a mandate for her Brexit strategy.”
Ian Dunt has also written another useful article, How the general election could go against Theresa May, which I recommend, and Gina Miller, who launched the successful lawsuit last year against Theresa May’s dictatorial insistence that she could trigger Article 50 without Parliament, is crowdfunding funds to launch a new organisation, ‘Best for Britain’, next week, which is planning “the country’s biggest tactical voting drive ever [to] stop Extreme Brexit.” As the funding website states, “We are launching a tactical vote campaign, aiming to ensure the final vote on the Brexit deal is a real one; one that is best for Britain. We need to prevent MPs and the people being forced into an Extreme Brexit that is not in Britain’s best interests. We will support candidates who campaign for a real final vote on Brexit, including rejecting any deal that leaves Britain worse off.”
In addition, a Facebook group has already been set up to encourage tactical voting in the local elections taking place on May 4, which, presumably, will now be expanding its operations to include the General Election on June 8, and I look forward to as much tactical voting as possible to try and damage the Tories as much as possible. I also look forward to significant pro-European Tories — like Lord Heseltine, who regards Brexit as the most idiotic peacetime policy in his lifetime — refusing to be silenced as May attempts to stifle any vestiges of internal dissent — and, as noted above, I look forward to Tory MPs in pro-Remain constituencies losing their seats across the south east and the south west of England if they fail to support their constituents’ wishes.
Mostly, though, this most cynical of elections is in many ways unknown territory, with UKIP, who secured 3.8 million votes in the 2015 General Election, now falling apart as a party, and the probability that the biggest winner this time around will, yet again, be the biggest party of all — the non-voting party, those who, put off by corrupt and/or remote politicians, and by the lack of representation in our ridiculous first-past-the-post system, don’t vote at all. And in 2015, lest we forget, just 66.2% of the 46,354,197 people eligible to vote actually bothered to do so. That’s 15,656,672 people — or, to go by the turnout in the referendum, the 27.8% of registered voters (12,948,018 people), who didn’t vote, making “the will of the people” that Theresa May and her ministers bang on about incessantly, with the full support of the right-wing media, the will of just 37.4% of the electorate. That’s way more than the 2015 General Election, when only 24.9% of registered electors voted for the Tories, who, nevertheless, took 50.9% of the seats, but it falls far short of providing anything like a mandate for all of the horrors that the Tories have been inflicting on us over the last seven years, and that, with Brexit, looks set to damage us permanently unless we can find a way to defeat them, and to discredit their malignant view of what Britain is, and what its place is in the world.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp).
He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
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