Apparently Theresa May is making some sort of surprise Downing Street statement at 11.15. I wonder what’s up – can’t be another election as 4 May is only two weeks away when the council ones are on. Can it?
This was the alert I read on my Facebook “news” feed around 10.30 yesterday morning. Thank you, Tim Purcell. As I’m on a bit of an extended vacation in the UK, and dogsitting in nearby Covent Garden, I figured I’d see what all the fuss was about. Let’s walk the walk and see the PM talk the talk. The dog needed to go out for his morning evacuation anyway.
I once lived and breathed politics. I take after my dad for that; he’s been a local councillor ever since I can remember. But whereas he was a card-carrying union rep who always voted Labour, I’m your typical fence-sitting floating voter. Just like my mum then.
Of course, it was the other female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Mrs Margaret Hilda Thatcher, that aroused my interest in politics. It wasn’t her Conservative policies per se, but the high drama and low blows of the Iron Lady’s final year in power, was such riveting stuff – no matter which way you swung – that I couldn’t fail to be aroused by the Greek tragedy of her demise. The spectacle amplified by the long-awaited televising of the House of Commons, the great heroic harridan left No.10 a year to the day that the cameras were introduced.
Thatcher favoured June elections. The two she fought as incumbent leader of the nation were both called for my birth month, on the back of encouraging local election results in May 1983 and again four years later. In fact, I turned 18 just a fortnight after Mrs T’s third and final election victory of 11 June 1987, so I was unable to vote for her or anyone else. Again like my mother, my initials happen to be SDP, so I like to think I would have favoured the party of the same name. Like I said, typical fence sitter. More analytical pundits would class that as a typical 19th Century Liberal: economically conservative (with a small c, naturally), socially very liberal.
And so almost 30 years to the day of Thatch’s last hurrah, the current Tory occupant of No.10 has made a rather shock announcement requesting a snap general election for June 8. The difference is palpable, the timing extraordinary.
One, she hasn’t been buoyed by council election results in the way her predecessor had. Two, Mrs May, who took over from David Cameron following the horrendous EU referendum result in June last year, gave a firm pledge so very recently that she intended to see this parliament out. Three, the UK now has fixed term parliaments, meaning there is no need for a general election before 2020. We are not even half way through what was supposed to be only the second fixed term parliament in Westminster history.
Before Tuesday’s shocker, the average length of time between general elections since the end of World War Two in 1945 has been three years and 10 months. As a result of 2011’s Fixed-term Parliaments Act the British populace were supposed to be getting one every five years. That meant over the next century there was supposed to be six fewer general elections. Good news for political phobics (ie everybody outside Westminster).
The law states that a two-thirds majority in the Commons is required to bypass that legislation. So what do the Labour Party do? In the same way they voted in favour of allowing Brexit to happen, Her Majesty’s Opposition roll over and pass the Government’s motion in favour of holding the election! You really couldn’t make it up.
Jeremy Corbyn has just signed his own political death warrant. The Liberal Democrats have also voted in favour of June 8 too, but when you have an illiberal evangelical Christian like dim Tim Farron as head of the party that’s hardly a surprise. He’s little more than Tony Abbot in English clothing.
The UK’s last general election was not even two years ago. Current estimates put the cost of local elections at £75 million. The cost of a general election is around £120m. Estimates for how much money saved by holding other elections on the same day as the locals vary considerably, but in 2010 the saving was said to be at least £7 million. That’s £7m of taxpayer’s money that could be much better spent elsewhere. Every vote cast in elections costs the taxpayer £6. This so-called democracy thing is expensive stuff.
I, May, lie
The cost of the 2016 referendum on Europe was £142 million on the day, and untold trillions every day since. David Cameron’s gamble will go down as one of the most monumental disasters of modern times. I voted Remain but the previous year’s poll was the first general election I chose not to cast a vote for. Iraq, Gordon Brown and a succession of fascist foetuses at Tory leaders have a lot to answer for. My response: I moved to the other side of the world. Incidentally, in 2015 my father voted Conservative for the first time in his life. And yes, I’m still trying to get my head around that one as well.
Richard Neville, Australian countercultural commentator, used to be fond of saying there was only an inch of difference between Labour and the Tories, but a lot of people managed to survive within that inch. But, alas, I shan’t be voting next month either. Of course, not turning up at the polling station in Australia is an offence that attracts a hefty fine, but that’s a system unlikely to be introduced in Blighty, thank gawd.
This opportunistic, unnecessary election will achieve precisely nothing, except the creation of even more economic uncertainty and societal division. Mrs May is asking the public to, er, trust her: the same person who said over and over again that she wouldn’t call an election. Oh, woof.
I might stick around just to soak up the drama, though, as Labour diehards wail uncontrollably at probably their worst defeat since their eternal nemesis, the coiffured old sow that was Margaret Thatcher, cruelly kicked Michael Foot’s stick away in ’83. The silly socialists just never ever seem to be in touch with the real world for long enough to understand that in British politics, left-wing rumps are seen as election-winning machines not. As Tony Blair said in that very same election campaign, it’s “a matter of style,” stupid.
Vogue magazine recently described May’s own style as “decidedly no-drama” and says that she operates under “a carefully preserved carapace of conformity”. Well, having been in Downing Street on Tuesday morning, I can confirm at close quarters the PM’s grey locks were far from conforming. You really would have expected her to have heard of hairspray, eh? I blame the government.