In 1926 H.L Mencken proposed that the classical liberal solution to unaccountable democratic governance is to put more power in the hands of the voters, writing in summation "The cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy."
The last four years of British politics seems hell-bent on disproving this. Since 2014 there have been three major democratic exercises, and each one has left the country in a more fragmented, polarised and parlous state. So, it wasn’t that much of a surprise that Prime Minister Theresa May announced a snap election earlier this week.
Things are getting weird over there, not that they weren’t weird to begin with. PM May, who was selected by her own MPs unopposed after all the other post-Cameron candidates combusted, had spent nine months insisting she had a mandate to carry out Brexit from the 2016 vote and a mandate to govern from the 2015 General Election – and that Scotland could shove its talk of independence after 2014’s Independence Referendum vote. There was not going to be a snap election. Until there was.
Some hopeful sorts imagined that May was seeking a larger majority in Parliament, up from the 4 seats Cameron won two years ago. That, they insisted, would mean the PM wouldn’t be beholden to the harder Brexiteers among her own party. Nice idea, but it seems May is seeking an increased majority and a mandate to take whatever decisions she may have to in future and depower her own rebellious MPs, and the unelected House of Lords, who have sought to take the sharp edges off the Brexit scalpel.
Why now though? The Conservative Party are currently at 48% in the polls, enjoying a 20% lead over Her Majesty’s Opposition. And, to put it bluntly, UK Labour under Jeremy Corbyn is an complete fucking mess. As the election was announced sitting MPs started indicating they did not want their party leader as Prime Minister. Some, fearing an electoral wipeout, have already declined to stand again. Others, viewing a colossal defeat as the only way to remove Corbyn, are remaining quiet and hoping to hang onto their seats to take advantage of the political wreckage.
So, it’s an election about Theresa May being allowed to do what she thinks is best over Brexit without any specifics being offered to the public, hoping that her personal popularity - she’s currently polling as well as a second term Tony Blair - will tide her over. Early indications are that her u-turn on holding a snap election has been welcomed by the public.
The Scottish Independence Referendum sheared off trust between Scottish voters and the traditional Westminster parties, as evidenced by Labour’s annihilation north of the border the following year. The Brexit vote has had a different effect on Britain, polarising opinion in a manner which cuts across party lines.
In the case of the Conservatives, PM May campaigned for Remain, but has taken such a strident Thatcher-esque ‘Brexit means Brexit’ approach that she has the support of many of the 52%. That ruthless instinct for power which holds together many pro-business, socially conservative parties has ensured that, while there is some discontent, the overwhelming public support for Brexit has quietened any serious attempt to derail the early stages of departure from the EU.
Labour have been in turmoil since the Brexit vote. The attempt to remove Jeremy Corbyn as leader failed, as Labour MPs found that they did not have the support of their own party members and could not find a candidate amongst them who was popular enough with anyone. Corbyn has supported Brexit, albeit in the half-arsed manner in which he does most things.
The Liberal Democrats, fronted by Tim Farron, have been the most pro-Remain party. If you recall, they were savagely reduced from 57 to just 8 MPs in 2015 after five years in coalition with the Conservatives. Tony Blair has come out in support of them, which means they’re in real trouble now. However as the party of Remain, they are hoping to stage a comeback in seats they lost to the Conservatives - relying on the 48% who votes to stay in the European Union.
The SNP, it’s fair to say, are not happy. In 2014 their independence bid was derailed by, among others, the insistence by Westminster parties that Scotland would have to leave the E.U which would wreak economic havoc. The following year the Scottish public, having enough of this, reduced the main Westminster parties down to single seats in Scotland, with the SNP surging to become the third largest party in Parliament. Then in 2016 the Scottish public voted overwhelmingly to remain in the E.U, only to be dragged towards the exit doors by the English voters – led by the same bastards who’d told them what a terrible idea leaving the E.U would be two years earlier.
Nicola Sturgeon wants another independence referendum. Theresa May is refusing to have one.
Then there’s Northern Ireland, who haven’t got a power-sharing agreement at Stormont following the resignation and death of Martin McGuinness. They are aghast at the lack of progress on ensuring the Good Friday Agreement, regarding the Northern Ireland/Irish Republic border, is maintained after Britain exits the E.U and restrictions on freedom of movement return.
Finally there’s the public. Brexit is popular among those who voted for it and their intent to see it through is not deterred by the quite clear signals that they’re going to end up worse off for it. Instead newspapers howl about the E.U relocating E.U institutions to E.U nations as if they’re punishing Britain, while spending time rhapsodising about how the colour of passports will change to be just like they were in the old days (1988 was when the first burgundy E.U ones began to be issued, if you were wondering).
Remainers, on the other hand, find themselves in a situation where the hated Liberal Democrats and Tony Blair appear to be the only people who represent them. Yes, that is as bad as it sounds. It’s like finding out United Future and David Seymour are the only people who agree with you.
Whatever the result of the June 8th election, one thing is certain. Article 50, which was triggered in late March, grants an E.U Member State two years of negotiations to establish departure settlement. Negotiations have not even begun on Brexit yet, and are unlikely to start until after the election - as Parliament dissolves in early May. That’s May the month, not May the Prime Minister, although it’s entirely possible this whole mess might dissolve her as well.
At the end of Carry On Up The Khyber the British colonial forces win via some kilt base shenanigans and raise a Union Flag over their compound, emblazened with the slogan ‘I’m Backing Britain’. Peter Butterworth turns to the camera and says; "Of course, they’re all raving mad, you know".
He was quite right then, and he’s quite right now. Unlike H.L Mencken, it would seem.