What a difference three months can make. In April, Theresa May stood on the steps of Downing Street and announced that she was calling a snap election to increase her majority and stop opposition parties from ‘political game-playing’ during the Brexit process. Having lost that majority in the subsequent election, the Prime Minister will this week mark her one-year anniversary in No 10 with a plea to said parties asking them to ‘contribute, not just criticise’. May will ask the other parties to ‘come forward’ with their views and ideas on everything from domestic policies to Brexit ‘at this critical time in our history’:
‘So I say to the other parties in the House of Commons… come forward with your own views and ideas about how we can tackle these challenges as a country.
We may not agree on everything, but through debate and discussion – the hallmarks of our Parliamentary democracy – ideas can be clarified and improved and a better way forward found.
It is in that spirit that we will take this agenda forward in the months ahead. And this new context presents us as a government with a wider choice. At this critical time in our history, we can either be timid or we can be bold.
We can play it safe or we can strike out with renewed courage and vigour, making the case for our ideas and values and challenging our opponents to contribute, not just criticise.’
Now if the Prime Minister wasn’t in such a tight spot, her words could be perceived as a well-intentioned gesture which shows May is seeking the higher ground. But the fact that it’s come only now that she has a working majority of 13 (with the DUP deal taken into account) means that it will just be perceived as a sign of weakness. In short, she has no choice but to ask for help.
The comments will worry many in the Leave faction of the Conservative party, who will fear it’s a sign of Brexit being watered down. This is because it’s unlikely many in Labour are going to have the same ideas for Brexit Britain as arch-eurosceptics Steve Baker or Jacob Rees-Mogg.
However, there’s still a chance the plea could work in May’s favour on Brexit. As things stand, Labour’s EU position is nonsensical. In the manifesto, the party tried to appease those on both sides of the EU debate by saying it would seek a deal with ‘a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union’ while refraining from saying they would stay members of both. As they could be vague and non-committal, they were able to appeal to both Remain and Leave voters – even though what they’re after is virtually impossible.
The issue for the Conservatives has been that Labour’s ‘have your cake and eat it 2.0’ position is perfect opposition politics. It works fine so long as you don’t have to sit around the negotiating table and make the hard decisions. It follows that by asking for Corbyn and his party to contribute rather than criticise, May could end up exposing the contradictions and conflicts in her opponents’ position.