Theresa May has got to go. She has got to go because she has failed British democracy, failed the British people, and reneged on the Conservative Party’s own manifesto promise to leave both the Customs Union and the Single Market. She has got to go because 17.4m Britons, the largest democratic bloc in British history, voted to ‘Take back control’ and she responded by ceding even more control to Brussels. She has got to go because the British people clearly want someone to stand up to Brussels, yet she bows and scrapes before Brussels, capitulating to its every undemocratic demand and conspiring in its stitch-up of Brexit.
Yet the expectation is that she will survive this evening’s confidence vote. If she does it will be a searing indictment of the Conservative Party. It will expose the Tories as so lacking in political dynamism, so bereft of courage, so unwilling to do anything that might stir up uncertainty, that they cannot even muster up the courage to rid themselves of a leader who is actively undermining the referendum vote of 2016 and the promises made by the Tories themselves in the General Election of 2017. If Conservative MPs opt for stasis over change, for May and her awful withdrawal agreement over a new leader with a potentially fresher approach to Brexit, the public will not soon forgive them. Is there any daring whatsoever left in British politics?
To see why May must go, look no further than the speech she made in Downing Street today in response to the news of a confidence vote. It summed her up. It captured why, of all of Britain’s prominent politicians, she is probably the least well-suited to leading the emergent nation of Brexit Britain. The Conservatives are ‘moderate, pragmatic, mainstream’, she boasted, blissfully unaware that, right now, faced with Brussels negotiators who are skilfully manipulative and ruthless, these are not the values that should be guiding Britain. Pragmatism? It is because of May’s ‘pragmatism’ that we are in the mess we are in, where Brussels constantly chips away at the ideal we voted for in the EU referendum — that Britain should take back control — and May accepts it in the spirit of compromise. Brexit Britain doesn’t need pragmatism — it needs its opposite: idealism.
Also evident in May’s speech was her growing reliance on the politics of fear. She mentioned the word ‘risk’ twice. And of course to her, as to all bureaucratic types, risk is a very bad thing. A change of leader would put Britain’s future ‘at risk’, she said. A leadership election ‘risks handing control’ of Brexit to Opposition MPs, she continued. There might even — horror of horrors — be some uncertainty. If I am ousted it will ‘create uncertainty’, May warned.
This is the language of the Third Way technocrat, of the aloof bureaucrat who treats politics as a businesslike affair in which searching for practical solutions must override fighting for political ideals. For May to play the pragmatism-and-fear card in the era of Brexit suggests she is utterly out of touch with the political mood. The public wants change — radical change — and yet she warns that change is dangerous. The public takes the risk of overturning politics as it has been done since the signing of the Maastricht Treaty and she rails against risk-taking. The public invites politicians to stand up to Brussels, and to wrest back the sovereignty we foolishly outsourced to it over the past 30 years, and yet May emphasises compromise, concessions, moderation. The public thirsts for greater democracy, May offers us more technocracy.
May is a bad PM, a bad leader of the Conservative Party, and bad news indeed for the millions of us who voted for Brexit. Sure, her ousting will not solve the current crisis in British politics or ensure the true, meaningful enactment of Brexit. But it might at least signal that PMs who wilfully undermine the democratic will do not last for very long. If the Conservative Party has a shred of self-respect left, it will send that signal this evening.