At 11:15 yesterday morning, an unelected Prime Minister emerged from within 10 Downing Street, as she has daily since rising to the Premiership amidst the ever-resonating chaos of summer, 2016. On this occasion however, Theresa May did not scuttle into an awaiting Jaguar to be whisked away to Westminster, some PR event or foreign mission. Instead, the PM approached a nondescript podium and laid out a file, and with it a blueprint for legitimacy, a shake-up of British politics.
“we need an election and we need it now”, Mrs May proclaimed to the regular army of pundits and lenses that align the pavement parallel to power. In the run up to the surprise speech, bookies slashed odds on a new vote, and the social media rumour mill burst to life with industrial vigour. In the aftermath, attention inevitably shifted to the game now at hand. Pending the response of Corbyn, Sturgeon, eminent Tories and the rest of the political spectrum, polling bodies were busy churning out public opinion and prediction – varying only in degree of calculated Conservative pre-eminence.
But of course, if we can draw but one truth from ‘the year of post-truth’ it’s that polls are unreliable – perceptions change, allegiances shift and margins narrow. Theresa May, yesterday, chose to brush aside these hard-learned lessons of 2016, which were epitomised in David Cameron’s fatal overconfidence in gambling the nation’s membership of the European Union to stifle rouge party elements and Ukippers. A lesson lived is no longer a lesson learned, apparently.
May’s speech, which was, at its core, an effort to undercut the ‘us and them’ of Brexit and impose instead a ‘we’, unfurled predictably. Ever working to bury for good the statistical truth of 52%-48%, the PM appears to have irrevocably associated Brexit with ‘the national interest’. As such, it’s critics within and without the Commons are charged with treason, painted as niggling disruptors whose very goal is to subvert the national interest and plunge this country into chaos.
The prescription? Unity. We should endeavour to “remove the risk of uncertainty and instability” from this climate of unparalleled uncertainty and instability imbued by its sudden critics. Unity, Mrs May alludes, is a Commons awash with blue, and a muzzled Lords. Unity, Mrs May proclaims, is the absence of opposition. ‘unity’, then, is not unity. Unity, in the PM’s manifestation, is an end of plurality, an end of debate and an end of criticism. It is a proposition to reduce the back-and-forth that is so essential to good policy making and democracy itself – that great debate that is so essential every day, but today especially. For the Tories, the key to unity is a narrowing of lenses, a removal of opposition. May’s government will seek, this June, to reap the reward of the uncertainty and fear that its politics has wrought in the minds and hearts of the British electorate. Be in no doubt that this was the very design of Mrs May’s announcement yesterday.
In an admirably well-planted tactical move, the Conservative party has seized the moment for hegemony – Labour’s prospects are dampened, nationalism proliferates, and a defanged UKIP has receded back into the murky depths from whence it came. Needless to say, this is the perfect storm for supermajority. But, as we cross threshold after threshold into deepening uncertainty, every government position, movement and twitch must be subject to scrutiny. We may be on the verge of handing those who proposed we make “a Titanic success” of Brexit the keys to the Titanic, an event that absolutely must be accompanied by the scrutiny of those on the bridge.