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Towards the End of May at the Beginning of June
09 May, 2017

Now that the local elections are over and party manifestos will start to come out, the focus shifts to shaping the 8th June election outcome. It is not a normal election, but a referendum on Theresa May and her determination to pursue a super-hard Brexit.

May is asking us for a blank cheque for her to negotiate for Britain to leave the European Union at any cost. She seems obsessed by the idea of pursuing a super-hard Brexit so that she can continue to crow that “Brexit means Brexit”, regardless of the damage that her brand will inflict on our economy, our livelihoods and our international standing. She is asking us to give her a licence for drive recklessly at top speed up a dead-end road.

The conclusion of this election will shape Britain’s future, not for 5 years but for generations to come.

The progressive opposition parties can only defeat May and her the Conservative party if they make this their sole objective and work together to achieve it. It is worth it, because if each party goes it alone, this will simply strengthen May’s hand and weaken each of the opposition parties still further. The tactical voting arrangements already under consideration, while a step in the right direction, will not oust the incumbent government.

This conclusion has been amply confirmed by the results of the local elections. The message is that business as usual is a non-starter, a recipe for the eclipse of any meaningful opposition.

It means a pre-election agreement to create a coalition government committed, in very simple terms, to a fairer and more prosperous Britain and to a positive rather than confrontational future relationship with Europe whether from within or outside the EU.

In practical terms, it means quickly creating a Progressive Parties Pact to fight the election and to promoting local Pacts in each constituency. It requires that each party’s candidates contest the election but without wasting their energies in fighting against each: 7 to 10 days ahead of the election date, a single PPP candidate would be identified locally (either by consensus or by drawing lots) to challenge the Conservatives in each constituency, and the others would withdraw.

Successful candidates would give priority to representing their constituents’ expressed priorities, once in the House of Commons, including those on future relations with Europe, regardless of their party. A consensual view on the full range of government priorities would emerge within six months of the government’s election – a reasonable time-frame after a snap election decision by the incumbent majority.

While a PPP management team would have to be put in place with the full backing of all concerned party leaders for the election period, more permanent governance arrangements for the Pact would be put in place only after the election. In the event of victory, these would include a process for selecting a future Prime Minister.

There is already much common ground between the Progressive Parties on domestic economic, social and environmental policies, with a strong emphasis on fairness. There is also a consensus on the need to reassert Parliament’s oversight of the executive branch of government. There is a wish to recreate an atmosphere of tolerance and mutual respect that has been a hall-mark of British values. There is a need to assure young people that their aspirations are given due weight in key decisions on Britain’s future. And it is vital that the devolved governments also have their proper say in determining what is best for them.

On Europe, it should be possible to arrive at a consensus vote-winning platform along the following lines:

  • Confirm to EU that Article 50 invocation still stands but call for a pre-negotiation dialogue on options for addressing key issues of special concern for Britain (see last point below):
  • Immediate unilateral recognition of EU residents’ rights in UK;
  • Immediate request to EU countries to recognise rights of UK citizens in Europe;
  • Immediate agreement to welcome qualified overseas students in British schools and universities, outside of any possible future constraints on immigration;
  • Commitment, prior to moving into detailed Brexit negotiations under Article 50, to explore with EU the options for UK remaining in the Single Market while taking measures to trim EU immigration when this over-stresses absorption capacities, and addressing other British expectations emerging from the election process.

The main focus of the short campaign should not be on policies (except on where there is already a clear inter-party consensus) but on discrediting the personal capacity of May and leading right-wing Tories (and their UKIP allies) to lead the country safely forward.

May is highly vulnerable because she has nothing to show for her ten months in office. All the evidence demonstrates that, though portrayed incessantly as “strong and stable” by her PR team, she is, in reality, a “weak and fickle” opportunist with authoritarian tendencies, driven by personal ambition and obsessions rather than any principles.

Theresa May is a weak Prime Minister

A strong PM would have tried to pull the country together after the divisive referendum vote, adopting a moderate stand rather than aiding and abetting the extremists in her own party who are now engaging in tactical voting with UKIP, and doing nothing to counter the general hardening of attitudes towards foreigners and minorities in Britain.

A strong PM would have explored ways for UK to stay in the Single Market rather than choose to exit even before negotiations start.

A strong PM would listen to – rather than dismiss – the many groups who see themselves negatively affected by her policies:  By dismissing the concerns of the Scots, she risks breaking up our United Kingdom and she doesn’t seem to care. Her failure to listen to Irish and Northern Irish leaders over the border issue reopens prospects of violence. Her fixation over opting out of the Single Market (driven, it seems, mainly by her personal grudges against the European Court of Justice) puts thousands of jobs and businesses – as well as our overall economy and fiscal stability –  at risk. Already, major players in the financial sector are moving out of Britain, taking jobs with them.

A strong PM would be able by now to point to some positive achievements during her time in office. Instead, she has no results to show: she has spent much of her energy trying to undermine the authority of Parliament, not yet developed a feasible Brexit strategy, and done absolutely nothing to address the urgent problems facing the NHS, the education system and marginalised communities.

Mrs. May is a fickle opportunist who acts on impulse and grudges rather than conviction

She backed “remain” in the referendum, expressing strong personal support for the Single Market, and then, as soon as the chance arose to become PM, did a complete U-turn, turning her back on the advice that she herself had given to voters: she was a traitor to her own declared beliefs and never said sorry to anyone.

She stated that she would not call a snap election, and then did a sudden U-turn also on this, after a week-end walking with her husband.

She calls for Britain to reclaim sovereignty, and then does her best to exclude Parliament – the institutional locus of British sovereignty – from playing its due constitutional role in the most important policy decision of recent years.

She exhibits autocratic tendencies, not only in this disdain for parliament, but also in relation to human rights and the rule of law. Like many insecure people in high places, she is intolerant of dissent even amongst her fellow-travellers.

Before she has even started to negotiate with the EU, she needlessly ruffled the feathers of her opposite numbers.

Beyond all of this, Mrs May must be targeted for:

  • Continuing to reiterate her statement that “No deal is better than a bad deal”. The united opposition should challenge this with a claim that “Remain is better than a bad deal!”.
  • Interpreting “the will of the people” as widespread support for a self-harming super-hard Brexit.
  • Failing to acknowledge that she has run around the world hunting for new trade deals and has drawn a blank, except for selling more arms to dictators.
  • Allowing her personal gripes to call for Britain to leave the jurisdiction of European Court of Justice and – eventually – the European Court for Human Rights, run by the Council for Europe.
  • Failing to do anything to temper the wave of hate crimes against foreigners and religious minorities in Britain.
  • Failing to confirm the rights of EU national residents in Britain ahead of negotiations on a new agreement.
  • Muzzling her MPs to prevent them from representing their constituents in the decision to invoke article 50.
  • Happy to call an election but unwilling to defend her policies in a television debate.

And so on……

The verdict is that Theresa May is not fit to be entrusted with setting the course of British history for coming generations.

She must, at all costs, be sent packing from Downing Street on 8th June. And the only way to be sure that this will happen is for the progressive parties to combine forces for the next 4 weeks.

By combining forces, the progressive opposition parties could put forward an outstanding group of candidates to successfully challenge May and all her friends.

Blog post from “Future of our Children”