Theresa May and the Crisis of British Progressivism

UK papers

Last September, Andrew Marr, the host of a Sunday morning political show on the BBC, interviewed Theresa May, the Conservative Party politician who had succeeded David Cameron as Britain’s Prime Minister after the Leave side’s narrow victory in the Brexit referendum, in June. With the Conservatives holding a big lead in opinion polls over the opposition Labour Party, Marr asked May whether she was tempted to call a snap general election, which could conceivably have enlarged her government’s narrow majority in the House of Commons.

“I don’t think there is a need for an election,” May replied. “I think the next election should be in 2020.” Marr pressed May again, asking if her answer was absolutely certain. “I am not going to be calling a snap election,” she said. “I’ve been very clear that we need that period of time, that stability, to be able to deal with the issues the country is facing—and have that election in 2020.”

On Tuesday, May announced that Britain would go to the polls on June 8th, which is just seven weeks away. Citing continuing divisions in Parliament regarding the Brexit process, she said, outside of 10 Downing Street, “I have concluded that the only way to guarantee certainty and stability for the years ahead is to hold this election and seek your support for the decisions I must take.”

This explanation didn’t withstand inspection. Although Britain as a whole remains bitterly divided by Brexit, May faces little effective opposition at Westminster. Earlier this year, the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly to allow her to start the formal process of breaking with Europe, which she did last month. And although May’s government has run into a bit more trouble in the House of Lords, it has dealt with that reasonably effectively, too.

The real reason behind May’s gambit is that the Labour Party is currently so weak that she seems all but certain to win on June 8th and further strengthen her position. Opinion polls show the Conservatives leading Labour by more than twenty points. Writing in the Guardian on Tuesday, the conservative columnist Matthew d’Ancona noted that calling a snap election was “self-evidently the smart option.” A victory for May and the Conservatives, he wrote, “would kill off the idea of a second referendum, and close down the argument that the electorate had not given consent to withdrawal from the single market.” The Economist pointed out that May “also has in mind her lack of a direct mandate: she has never won a general election, having succeeded Mr. Cameron as prime minister only via a Tory party leadership contest.”

 

Source/More: The New Yorker

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