Analysis: Tory members have the future of Britain in their hands – unless democracy intervenes

Ben Wray

CommonSpace editor Ben Wray says that with May on her way out, a furious Tory membership smitten by Farage will now pick the Prime Minister and dictate the Brexit strategy – unless democrats unite and fight for a General Election

THERE is a consensus among the chattering classes (at least the ones on Twitter) that the upshot of Theresa May’s meeting with the Tory backbencher 1922 Committee today is that she will, one way or another, be gone by Summer. 

The chair of the 1922 Committee, Graham Brady, has published a terse letter laying out that May and Brady will meet to agree “a timetable” for a Tory leadership contest after the ‘one more heave’ prime minister’s fourth attempt to get her Brexit deal through parliament on 3 June. Brady says that whichever way the vote goes, the timetable will be be agreed for the prime minister’s departure. 

And it seems to be obvious that the time for said departure will be the Tory annual conference, which falls on 29 September – one month before the new article 50 deadline of 31 October.

With May’s resignation confirmed for the Summer, it’s highly unlikely that she will get her Brexit Deal through at the fourth time of trying. Brexiteer MPs thinking about supporting her now have even less incentive, as they know she is finished after the vote no matter what the outcome. Tory leadership candidates will also be doing everything they can to differentiate themselves from the failed prime minister, and thus will be in no mood to help their leader, who’s authority is totally shot through. 

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So if we can bank on May leaving within a couple of months with Brexit still not resolved, we can also bank on how the Tory leadership race is going to shape up. Various buffoons and charlatans will present themselves as more red, white & blue than the next, each trying to win the hearts of the Tory’s furious membership, many of whom will trot out next week to put their tick in the box of the Brexit Party rather than their own. 

Let’s remember that the final nail in May’s coffin has been the Brexit Party’s rapid rise. Not only are the Tories on course to get less than half the vote of Nigel Farage’s new right-wing vehicle in the EU elections, they are currently polling neck and neck with the party for a future Westminster election, both on 20 per cent. It’s that political threat which has led MPs to conclude that May has to be gone, or else the Tory ship might sink with her leadership.

That context is what frames this election, which perhaps will be the most consequential party leadership election in the history of British politics. Not only will they be deciding the next Prime Minister, they will also be deciding the UK’s Brexit strategy. A party with an average age of 72, with the last recorded membership being 124,000 in 2018 (it will be significantly less now), has the future of the country in the palm of its hands. 

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If you think that’s a democratic outrage, you’ld be right. Britons were told in 2017 that they were voting for Theresa May so she had a mandate to deliver her Brexit. They didn’t even give the Tories a majority government, but with May gone and Boris or whoever in on an anti-Theresa May ticket, the distance between government and democracy will have grown into a gaping chasm. 

Of course this in itself makes the case for independence, but if we can’t get a section 30 order out of May, what chance out of her ultra-Brexiteer successor? While Boris Johnson as Prime Minister may well send Yes support soaring, the democratic lock on accessing a second independence referendum still needs to be unpicked.

That’s where an alliance could be formed. The SNP, Labour and other Remainers in parliament who see a No Deal Brexit on the cards could demand together a General Election when May resigns. The Tories can even select their new leader if they want before the election, but only on the basis that the election happens before Brexit is resolved. May’s resignation means no one has a mandate over the country’s constitutional future – so they have to seek a new mandate.

The SNP could campaign in that General Election on the basis that a majority of Scottish MPs would be a mandate for a second independence referendum. The distinct possibility of a minority Labour Government could provide the nationalists with further leverage to ensure that comes to pass. 

We don’t know exactly what a General Election would bring, but that’s the nature of democracy – there’s no definites. The alternative is to let Tory members, apoplectic about Brexit not being delivered and smitten by Farage, dictate the future of Britain on their own. Surely, that is no alternative at all.

Picture courtesy of Tiocfaidh ar la 1916

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