The Conservative Party Conference launched the death of democracy to thunderous applause. The fact of the matter is that the government does not have a mandate. Theresa May argues that the Tories won the election in 2015 and therefore she has a right to govern. It’s a convenient argument that manages to ignore the reality of the situation facing Britain.
The first clue to her attack on democracy should have been when May first addressed Parliament and criticised safe space policies in university. Since coming to power, Theresa May has completely overturned Cameron’s government. Most people in Britain did not actually vote for the Conservatives but Cameron did have a claim to power through his mandate through his victory in 2015. This mandate has been ripped up by May. May has replaced all those who were close to Cameron (or they themselves walked away from their posts) and she is introducing policies which were never once discussed prior the election.
Grammar schools were such a surprise policy that long prior to any announcement, Cameron had commented that it was a pointless endeavour for any hopeful Tory. May has pushed through with her vision but it’s a vision that hasn’t been discussed by anyone else in the country and a vision that not even her own party agree upon.
While the mutterings of discontent have been kept relatively quiet in the wake of the party conference season, there are those who celebrated the victory in 2015 and yet have deep concerns now. Many Tories are revelling in the stronghold they have over the country but it isn’t a sentiment entirely shared when it has come about in such a way.
— Anna Soubry MP (@Anna_Soubry) October 7, 2016
Even ‘The Conservative Woman’ has displayed its doubts about the choice not to hold an immediate election, fearing that it could destroy May’s reputation and may even result in a missed opportunity to “dispatching the hard Left before it became a real problem”.
One of the biggest elephants in the room is, of course, Brexit. The announcements throughout the Tory conference were centred upon the hard Brexit vision. The talk was tough on migration, and neither students nor doctors were spared from the heavy handed rhetoric. May’s comment that “if you believe you are are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere” will surely become one of the infamous political lines of this century.
Yet forty-eight percent of the people who voted wanted to remain within the European Union. Scotland is muttering about the possibility of a referendum when the United Kingdom does decide to leave the EU, and those who did vote Leave were led to that decision with false promises of £350 million for the NHS and trade deals which may never come to fruition.
There is little mandate for a hard Brexit given that nobody really knew what on earth Brexit would mean. It’s strange how Conservatives will argue against quotas for companies when it comes to migrants (and people of colour) and yet they are happy to force companies to disregard the qualifications and credibility of foreign workers to hire British people.
Brexit will mean negotiating treaties and trade deals, attempting to manage migration without EU support and losing a tremendous amount of legislation that have strong public support (such as maternity leave). Brexit may be the public’s wish, and that is to stretch the validity of the vote that so many now seem to regret, but nobody has agreed on what Brexit should mean for the United Kingdom. Is there justification for such an extreme version of Brexit when so many who voted Leave held such different ideas?
The result of the Brexit fallout is that one woman has been placed at the helm of the United Kingdom to deliver something that nobody has endorsed: the public didn’t get to say exactly what they wanted with migration, they didn’t say whether they wanted less doctors from the EU and they certainly didn’t vote on whether firms and companies should have to list the foreign workers they employ. The referendum didn’t hand back power or democracy to the people, it has been used as a pretext to take it away.
To emphasise the Theresa May’s staggering lack of democratic legitimacy, it is worth noting that she has never won a single vote. Gordon Brown was rightly hammered for not holding a vote after Blair effectively handed him the keys to Number Ten, but even he had a stronger claim to a mandate because the country didn’t experience as much legislative or constitutional change that the United Kingdom is soon going to (and the Labour Party at that time had a much more comfortable majority than the Tories currently hold). May herself at the time even argued that Brown’s decision not to hold a snap general election was “incompetent“.
The role of the last Coalition government played its part in ensuring that democracy was to suffer in the UK. The Liberal Democrats pushed the Fixed Term Parliament Act through as the party was scared that Cameron would initiate a divorce as soon as the Conservatives went up in the polls and the Lib Dems looked like they might suffer. It was a cynical ploy to cling onto power from a third party that had actually lost five seats from the previous election, and had failed to win votes off the back of the TV debate success for Nick Clegg.
The majority of the British public did not vote for the Conservatives at the election, and therefore did not vote for the continued privatisation of the NHS or other Tory promises, and yet they get to hold power for half a decade. The Fixed Term Parliament Act then was an act against democracy that put politicians further outside the wrath of the public. If demand was high enough, then without the act the government would be under greater pressure to hold an election but now they have an extremely lengthy five years to hide behind regardless of legitimacy.
May knows this. The fact is that unless the Tories fall apart with infighting or public pressure grows so great her position is untenable, then she has free reign for the next five years. The same Tories that jeered Brown for denying the public their voice are now applauding May as their hero- and all thoughts of democracy have gone out of the window. It’s a tactic that seems absurd given that if May held an election today she would likely win, and Labour would surely be weakened by such an endorsement from May, and yet the Tories have still fled from the election. Democracy cannot be trusted to those whose jobs and expenses depend on it and it certainly cannot be trusted to people who wish to force through their own agendas at any cost. Power plays will always be made and the Tories showed it at conference; they never cared about democracy when they attacked Brown, the only thing they care for is their own party.