Theresa May seems to hate dissent. She wanted to push through Brexit without parliamentary approval, and she was happy to go to the Supreme Court to get her way. When she failed, she insisted on getting the shortest possible Brexit bill passed without any changes, and she now wants to call a general election because too many people are asking awkward questions in the House of Commons.
There are of course other reasons for holding a snap election. Firstly, there are rumours the police are close to launching court cases against a number of Tory MPs because of election fraud. I’m not sure whether the cases will still go ahead, but even if they do, they’ll carry much less importance when the parliament they were related to has been dissolved. It also gives the Tories the chance to deselect those MPs before the election.
Secondly, there is a Brexit-induced recession on its way, so the current polling figures are probably as good for the Conservatives as they’ll ever get.
Thirdly, the opposition in England is in all likelihood at a low ebb. Surely they’ll start unifying again in the near future, whether under an existing banner (Labour or Lib Dem) or under a new one (Whigs).
However, I still think it was Theresa May’s authoritarian tendencies that made her go for it. A very large part of her speech today was about the division she’s facing in Parliament:
At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division. The country is coming together, but Westminster is not. In recent weeks Labour has threatened to vote against the deal we reach with the European Union. The Liberal Democrats have said they want to grind the business of government to a standstill. The Scottish National Party say they will vote against the legislation that formally repeals Britain’s membership of the European Union. And unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way.
Because what they are doing jeopardises the work we must do to prepare for Brexit at home and it weakens the Government’s negotiating position in Europe. If we do not hold a general election now their political game-playing will continue, and the negotiations with the European Union will reach their most difficult stage in the run-up to the next scheduled election.
Every vote for the Conservatives will make it harder for opposition politicians who want to stop me from getting the job done. Every vote for the Conservatives will make me stronger when I negotiate for Britain with the prime ministers, presidents and chancellors of the European Union.
(And no, I don’t know either how she can say with a straight face that the country is coming together, when it’s clearly not the case. I presume she’s spending most of her time amongst older people in the Tory shires, where you probably can get that impression.)
If Theresa May wins this election, my prediction is she’ll become even more authoritarian than before. George Saravelos from Deutsche Bank seems to think that May will use an election victory to (1) allow a three-year transitional period before Brexit kicks in, (2) sideline her pro-Brexit backbenchers, and (3) start compromising in the negotiations with the EU. I don’t believe it. The Tory rebels are pro-EU today, so it’s clearly not the backbenchers that are forcing her to be tough, and she has ruled out transitional periods and sensible compromises that even the toughest Brexiteers would have agreed to.
This Brexit belongs to Theresa May, and she’ll use an election victory to make it harder than ever. My best guess is that she wants Brexit to be such a shock to the system that it’ll allow the Tories to completely dismantle the welfare state before 2022 (which is when the next general election will now take place).
Scotland needs to escape this madhouse before it’s too late!