British Prime Minister Theresa May’s surprising, though not astonishing, announcement that she would ask Parliament for a general election on June 8 comes on the heels of a soul-searching referendum 10 months ago, in which Britain voted to leave its EU partner of 42 years.
This was followed by a prolonged period of absorbing the complexities of this undertaking, which has left many in government looking like a startled emoji. A London-centric Brexit industry of bureaucrats, lawyers, lobbyists and consultants has grown exponentially as a result.
Frustrated by accusations of “ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking” from Britain’s former top EU civil servant Sir Ivan Rogers, and by a divided Conservative Party with a small majority in Parliament, May used the extolled virtues of a walking holiday — on the hills of Snowdonia — over Easter to conclude “reluctantly” that she would call the general election she promised would not happen before 2020.
To all intents and purposes, this will be the Brexit election. The vicar’s daughter laid down the gauntlet to all Remainers, both in the political and private sector. Like the blackmailer urging his victim to reconsider his behavior, she demanded that they absolve themselves of their legitimate concerns in favor of the national interest.
With a populist flourish — “the country is coming together but Westminster is not” — she berated her democratic institutions for undermining the will of the people. These included not only the opposition Labour Party, Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party, but also the “unelected” members of the upper parliamentary chamber, the House of Lords.
In exercising their parliamentary sovereignty to scrutinize the Brexit process, their lordships were, it seems, flouting the wishes of the 51 percent who had clamored to regain precisely this autonomy.
May’s call for a snap election resonates with as much integrity as the game of politics allows. This may smack of dastardly opportunism, but only an unhealthy dose of self-doubt could ignore today’s ripe mixture of political potential for the Conservative Party.
She has promised to devote herself tirelessly to the wellbeing of her nation, with a pair of pliers to declaw all manner of Brexit objectors and Brexit hard-liners, and a boot if necessary that may even kick out Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson if she can deliver the landslide victory.
Trisha de Borchgrave
After all, the opposition is in tatters; the Labour Party is more than 20 points behind in the polls, and the Liberal Democrats hold only eight parliamentary seats, down from 57 at the general election two years ago.
Furthermore, consumer confidence, job and economic growth, and the country’s still-resilient finances — despite the dire predictions of the referendum result — have boosted the means of persuading the electorate to vote Conservative. A victory for May under these circumstances would bring her the closest a British leader has come to ruling over a one-party state. Of the many positions she is willing to negotiate, over a barrel is not one of them.
So Britain’s Mother Theresa has promised to devote herself tirelessly to the wellbeing of her nation, with a pair of pliers to declaw all manner of Brexit objectors and Brexit hard-liners, and a boot if necessary that may even kick out Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson if she can deliver the landslide victory. But this seemingly impregnable position carries its own risks.
Britain’s voters will be an assortment difficult to categorize by an already-distrusted polling system. Those who neglected to have their say in the EU referendum could well vote against May, and Remainers who see no alternative leader might not. There has been scant evidence of buyer’s remorse from Brexit voters, and an audible harrumphing concession that Brexit is here to stay by some Remainers.
However, demographics might matter. As the House of Lords member Baroness Liz Symons recently indicated, the majority of 500,000 teenagers — who have celebrated their eligibility to vote since the EU referendum — are pro-Remain, while a similar number of over 65s who voted to leave, have, beyond this life.
Europhiles and Labour supporters will be left with the quandary of whether to vote for May and thereby allow her to control the radical Brexiteers pushing for a free-fall Brexit, or to teach her one more lesson in coalition governance with a party that opposes Brexit.
Today’s alternative ideology — exhaustion — might lead to shrugging off a vote for May, whose steely conviction will get on with carving out a new role for Britain based on what many now see as an annoying process that one eager Brexit enthusiast on the street referred to as “doing my head in.”
This is both a referendum and voter makeover, without incurring the wrath of Brexiteers shouting out betrayal. The odds are comfortably in May’s favor, albeit in an age of the politically unthinkable. So like another unassuming but wily pastor’s daughter who has used her penchant for home-bound peregrinations to learn to tread the ruts of competing political agendas, Mother Theresa might end up with Mutti Merkel’s other skill: Staying power.
Or will “June put an end to May,” as one Remainer recently wished for on social media? In May’s words: “Let us tomorrow vote for an election, let us put forward our plans for Brexit and our alternative programs for government.” All well and good, if only the electorate knew what that meant.
— Trisha de Borchgrave is a writer and artist based in London. She can be reached at www.trishadeborchgrave.com and through Twitter @TrishdeB