CommonSpace editor Ben Wray gives his verdict following May’s defeat in the House of Commons
THE Prime Minister has lost on her most important legislation, the primary reason for her government’s existence and the issue she campaigned almost solely on in the 2017 General Election, which she called for this express purpose.
She hasn’t just lost – she has lost overwhelmingly; the biggest loss of a government in the history of the UK Parliament.
It is without democratic precedent in the UK that such a defeat would not lead to the Prime Minister resigning or calling a General Election. When Ramsay MacDonald’s minority government lost a vote by 166 votes in 1924 over an amendment to investigate a government decision to drop criminal proceedings against the editor of the Communist newspaper Workers Weekly, he dissolved the Commons and called a General Election. This is the only time in the past century where the government has been defeated by over 100 votes. Until today.
May has no mandate to remain in office. Neither does she have any new ideas. Her plan is to do what the EU has done many times in the past, what the US did when the 2008 financial crash happened, and many others have who want to hold onto power without democratic authority – pose the same question again, until they get the right answer.
This is a sham. In all the debate about what happens next, everyone appears to be taking it as given that the prime minister will continue as she cannot face an internal leadership challenge until December after defeating the last one just weeks ago. But have we taken leave of our senses? Just because the 1922 Committee, which most people will never have heard of never mind care about, cannot organise a leadership election among Tory MPs, does not mean that all democracy comes to an end.
May is banking on our confusion and exhaustion to stay in power, when the simple fact is she has no democratic legitimacy to continue. Clearly, a General Election needs to be held, and if May refuses to call one, and MPs in the House of Commons refuse to back a No Confidence vote, the people have to insert themselves into the situation, and demand her removal from number 10.
Many of you will then be asking, ‘then what?’, which is a reasonable question, but that question should not be used to disrupt democracy or as an excuse for the prime minister to stay in power. May goes, then we deal with ‘then what?’.
The prime minister is all over the place. She has gone from fear tactics about No Deal last week, which totally flunked, to pivoting towards fear tactics about No Brexit this week. This latter tactic may be slightly more effective in bringing her backbenchers into line, and is more in line with reality as well – as we wrote last week, there is no chance of No Deal.
Her pivot should render the debate dead for good about whether No Deal is a realistic possibility, which the Lib Dems are desperately trying to keep alive, despite the fact they say it is the last thing they want to see happen. That’s because they want a People’s Vote without having a General Election, but while that may suit their interests, there is no democratic mandate for a second EU referendum either. If there is to be a second referendum, there should be a General Election first in which parties should have to set out whether they wish to hold a second EU referendum or not – Labour are all over the place, but they will have to tell the electorate one way or another what they are seeking their mandate to govern for.
In Scotland, we already have a democratic mandate for an independence referendum, voted for in the 2016 Scottish elections and reinforced in the 2017 General Election with an SNP majority. Our embattled First Minister would do well to execute that mandate, but if a General Election were to happen first she must reinforce it again at the ballot box.
Democratic legitimacy. A mandate to govern from the people. These are simple principles that have got lost in recent times – it seems like some on both sides of the Brexit debate believe in them only when it is politically expedient. It was ever thus, which is why the UK and Scottish citizenry must assert themselves into the current fiasco playing out at Westminster, and become active agents of history with a clear set of democratic demands.
May won’t face the voters because she knows there is a strong chance they’ll boot her out of office. Demand no.1 should be: get her out of Number 10.
Picture courtesy of Tiocfaidh ár lá 1916
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