Theresa May’s abuse of power is the real threat to an already strained democracy

How dare Theresa May suggest that rejecting her deal is damaging to democracy? How on earth did we get to a place where a Prime Minister  of a minority government pushes the country to the brink, forcing false choice between two unpalatable options that most people don’t want. Two massive polls, of 25000 and 20000 people respectively, for the People’s Vote campaign and Channel 4 suggest that people want to remain in the EU.

Proceeding with Brexit without reference to the people, surely, is much more damaging to democracy. Andrew Marr could have challenged her forcefully on this to her face this morning but yet again he gave her pretty much a free pass.

She needs to be challenged as to why she is pouring billions into no deal preparations, some of them farcical,  for an outcome nobody wants, when she could go back to the people and ask them to mark her homework. It would be cheaper and would put some legitimacy back into the process. It seems she is scared of an outcome which will split her party.

She has every reason to lead on this. She is safe from challenge from her party. She has already said she’s not going to fight the next election. Does she really want her legacy to be driving the country off a cliff? Let’s be clear, her deal damages the economy, makes us all poorer and creates uncertainty. Although she didn’t actually say that she would proceed with no deal when asked to several times by Marr. MPs need to make sure that that option is taken off the table in the coming weeks.

May cannot be allowed to argue that she is defending democracy when all the evidence suggests that both her deal and no deal are unwanted by the majority of people. She needs to be ridiculed for saying that, often and publicly.

Anything less than People’s Vote is an abuse of power by a minority government. That point needs to be driven home by journalists, commentators and MPs. We can’t stand by and just let May get away with this.

And while we’re on the subject, let’s look at some things which are much riskier for democracy than, you know, asking people their opinion on the biggest issue in living memory.

People don’t get the Westminster Parliament or the local council (except in Scotland) they ask for. Governments elected on a minority of public support have virtually untrammelled power to do what they like. Look at the example of Manchester. On less than 2/3 of the vote, Labour end up with over 90% of the Councillors. How is that fair?

And our laws are scrutinised by a body of 800 people who aren’t even elected. They are appointed by political patronage. Having said that, they are a better opposition than the Labour Party in the Commons. It’s not right, though.

At every single stage, both Labour and Conservatives have done everything they can to make the system of party funding fairer. As they are well funded by unions and business respectively, they have no interest in doing so.

Our laws are made predominantly and disproportionately by rich white men. Parliament does not look like the country it seeks to represent and that’s on all parties, including ours. We need to sort that out.

The Liberal Democrats have a very strong track record of trying to sort most of that out. We aren’t anywhere near good enough on diversity but on fair voting, Lords reform and funding, we have always been not just on the right side of the argument but we’ve pushed it as far as we can.

We’ve stopped talking about political reform because people aren’t interested in it. We need, urgently, to show them that it is the key to them having more power to shape their own destinies and to create a more just, liberal country.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • William Fowler 6th Jan '19 - 12:42pm

    I want to remain and a second vote but banging on about democracy when the EU is a rather remote organization with an unelected elite is dangerous ground. Germany has done well with a PR system but the system is open to far right maniacs as well as nice Liberal chaps. Mrs Merkel has told Germans who don’t like her policies to go to live in another country, not sure where the democracy is in that.

    The UK system seems at a dangerous point of evolution, with the two party system undermined by Marxists in the Labour party who have mostly managed to put on a pretty face for the TV and right-wingers in the Conservatives plotting a coup. Barry Gardiner was on the TV this morning, plausibly demanding an election to solve the Brexit problem, he seems to be the new sensible and nice face of Labour and the hapless interviewer was too polite to mention that voting for Labour would also mean implementation of policies that would lead to hyper-inflation and bankrupt the country – all at odds with EU rules, BTW.

    Apart from immigration, Mrs May is a Big State politician with a liking for an excess of endless, pointless laws and probably, for Liberals, the best of a bad lot!

  • Steve Trevethan 6th Jan '19 - 1:00pm

    Our “democracy” has been described as an elected dictatorship.
    And it’s worse than that. Our “democracy” is a dictatorship elected/selected by a minority of the population.
    Perhaps we could improve the situation by working for a written constitution so that we might have a better idea of the rules and have the rules enforced?
    At the very least we could have a set of democratic, clear, predictable and enforced rules on the calling of, and procedures for the management of, referenda/referendums.
    Perhaps we need either lots of them, which could be called by the many and the few, or none at all?

  • The added twist to this is that, if the article 50 notice is withdrawn, or if the EU agrees to extension of the article 50 period, then we will still be members at the time of the European Parliament elections… campaigning strongly in those lets us put a case for the EU, nails the idea that it is undemocratic, and lets us demonstrate the value of electoral reform by taking part in elections held under Proportional Representation.

    Of course, lots could happen to mean that the UK is not taking part in those elections (which gives us room to point out that Brexit means we have excluded ourselves from European democracy), but if we are able to stand candidates, we have a huge opportunity.

  • Nom de Plume 6th Jan '19 - 2:06pm

    Referenda should be restricted to constitutional matters (if the term has any meaning in a UK context), like membership of the EU. Have as many as you feel necessary. They will always be divisive, so use with caution. Clear, predictable and enforced rules would help.

  • Bernard Aris 6th Jan '19 - 4:08pm

    If you are a LibDem and you think the EU is undemocratic (and in many aspects and procedures it patently is; for example no microphones in the Europarliament for interruptions so no lively debate that could inform watching voters better), you should campaign for the UK to remain in the EU, so that an increased LibDem vote (after Labours inevitable collapse; they remind me of the Ranmsay MacDonald split) can strenghten ALDE in calling for more accountability (from the European Council of prime ministers for starters!).
    As someone living in a country with a straight proportional voting system (Germany’s is dual), 17 years of dealing with populist upstarts has learned us that the quality of MP’s and their debating skills is far more decisive in limiting the impact and influence of Trump-like disruptors in politics. Making your voting system more proportional sure helps (it gives people feeling excluded a better representation, and fewer reasons for protest voting), but you only vote a few times every year, and the debate with disruptors goes on on a daily basis.

  • David Evershed 6th Jan '19 - 5:22pm

    For European MEP elections in the Uk we have the d’Hondt system of proportional representation.

    This gave rise to the following number of MEPs representing the UK

    UKIP 24
    Labour 20
    Cons 19
    Green 3
    SNP 2
    Lib Dem 1

    Be careful what you wish for.

  • Nom de Plume 6th Jan '19 - 5:41pm

    @David Evershed

    Another warning that the Coalition was not working for the LibDems. There were 11MEPs at the previous election.

  • So UKIP got the most MEP’s and then demonstrated how swivel eyed loon they where by promptly falling to bits. UKIP now have
    “UKIP has seven members in the European Parliament, with representatives in six of the twelve European Parliament constituencies in the UK. Twenty-four UKIP representatives were elected in the 2014 election, but sixteen have since defected and one was expelled”

    The elections did us all a favour it put incompetents in place who promptly fell out with each other. UKIP could not survive the election of its politicians because as Nigel Farage said of UKIP

    NIGEL Farage has launched a blistering attack on Ukip members, branding them “low-grade people”.

    The retired party boss hit out at members who he “would never have a drink with, who I would never employ and who use me as a vehicle for their own self-promotion.”

    By electing these people you subject them to public scrutiny and the pressure of reality, neither of which they can withstand. So yes I welcome their election because the cleansing power of sunlight on them is preferable to the dark mutterings of hidden half wits muttering “it is all the fault of the other, because we are exceptional”. I’d rather have them out in the open where people can see how exceptionally unfit to run anything they all are. This by the way would be the one upside of Brexit, no longer would the third rate quality of our politicians and the low grade quality of our “betters” be so easy to hide.

  • Graham Jeffs 6th Jan '19 - 6:00pm

    The title to this piece says it all. Please don’t try and dilute the message or the concern.

  • My belief is that the Prime Minister thinks she is doing the best for the country. She recognised publically the damage that would be done to the country if we leave a customs union and she believes that not being in the customs union but being in a customs union gets round that. She also believes that she has a clever ruse of forcing a last minute agreement with her, as otherwise we would be left with chaos.
    The House of Commons is helping her by refusing to have real discussions on the serious issues we face, although they keep themselves informed through the committee system.
    It will be interesting to see what happens.
    It would be good to see as skilful planning from those who say they hold different views.

  • Nom de Plume 6th Jan '19 - 6:09pm

    No planning required by the LibDems. They back Remain. And another referendum.

  • John Marriott 6th Jan '19 - 6:57pm

    We should explore every avenue possible before resorting to another referendum, which will awaken some of the dark forces that simply haven’t gone away. If the May deal is defeated, and I hope that she doesn’t drag it out until the very last minute, the next stage should be to seek a postponement ( or whatever the verb is) of Article 50. Then we should ditch party politics and allow Parliament to take over either to seek an improvement of the deal or a reworking of something like Norway Plus. Any further deal should be subject to a free vote of MPs, a tactic used by the Heath government when the original EEC treaty got through the House of Commons. Only if all else fails should we consider another referendum, the precise question(s) to be decided later. People wanted us to ‘take back control’. Well, what more ‘control’ do they want?

  • Nom de Plume 6th Jan '19 - 7:16pm

    I don’t like referenda, but once one has decided to go down that route it is better to follow it. Parliament can not agree, hence the referendum. The free vote tactic would be dishonest. The Brexiters would have grounds for complaint. A written constitution could solve these ambiguities.

  • Sean Hyland 6th Jan '19 - 7:20pm

    But will we have greater democracy in an unchanged EU given the apparent calls for greater political,fiscal, and economic union?

  • Nom de Plume 6th Jan '19 - 7:34pm

    @Sean Hyland

    The short answer is ‘Yes’. The long answer would require a detailed discussion of the various elements of your question. I doubt many people would listen. It is not the sort of thing one could write on the side of a bus.

    Also your question has a contradiction. “greater political,fiscal, and economic union” would require the EU to change.

  • I may be /slightly/ off topic here but I want to share this excellent blog from Richard Corbett (see, I can be un-tribal when I want to be!) in which he dismantles Theresa May’s ’40 reasons to back the Brexit deal’, showing every one to be a falsehood. This is the sort of thing I wish we LibDems were doing. But anyway, credit where it is due – this is really good, and will be useful the next time you are talking to your undecided aunt/colleague/neighbour/friend/MP about why we need a Peoples Vote.

  • Nonconformistradical 6th Jan '19 - 7:47pm

    @John Marriott
    “Then we should ditch party politics and allow Parliament to take over….”

    But will the tories or Jeremy Corbyn ditch party politics…? I’m not holding my breath.

  • John Marriott 6th Jan '19 - 8:39pm

    The answer to your question is probably ‘No’. After all, it was probably party politics that got us into this mess to begin with. But I really do live in hope, naive as some would consider me. You see, I for one am getting mighty sick of parties, and individuals, trying to score points off each other on this and other issues and not facing reality

    Don’t forget that all we are trying to do at the moment is to ‘leave the EU’. If we do, with or without a deal, there still remains the small matter of negotiating a Trade Deal with our erstwhile partners by 2020, or there abouts. So far, party politics has failed to deliver. Now it must be up to Parliament to take a lead. I am reminded, for some reason, of the words that Kaiser Wilhelm II used to the members of the Reichstag at the start of WW1; “Ich kenne keine Parteien mehr, ich kenne nur nock Deutsche ” (I do not recognise parties any more, only Germans). It’s time to appeal to the majority of those men and women that we send to Westminster to grasp the initiative and ‘take back control’!

  • Sean Hyland 6th Jan '19 - 10:32pm

    @Nom de Plume. Just reflecting on Guy Verhofstadt. Believe he has written about having a 12 person commission with full executive powers a long with full fiscal and economic union. This would involve full tax and budgeting powers. Happy to accept correction but understand it’s the manifesto of the federalist european movement.

  • Arnold Kiel 7th Jan '19 - 4:49am

    The UK has now two large populist parties. One fights for any Brexit at all cost, the other one promises generous spending on anything without regard to cost (including the cost of Brexit itself). LibDems should not be too self-critical for not being heard: there are too many simple and wrong answers out there for the differentiated and right ones to have much following.

    Calling the EU “a rather remote organization with an unelected elite” is adding to populism without advancing rational solutions.

  • Arnold,
    Populist or delusional?
    Perhaps we should just settle on the definition of ” cakeist” for both of them. The problem is while they may produce “cake” for the public, given the ingredients of bile, stupidity, fear of the “furrin” and delusion they are both using, would you want to eat it.

  • Just a minor point Caron – I think you probably mean that both Labour and the Tories have obstructed moves to make party funding fairer. Once Brexit is resolved (if it ever is) fairer party funding should be one of the planks of a LibDem campaign to ‘Make our democracy work again’.

  • Ian Hurdley 7th Jan '19 - 8:30am

    It is either insulting or arrogant (probably both) for Theresa May to say that she will give Parliament more power in the process of picking up the pieces if her bad deal is voted down. Let us be absolutely clear; the Executive does NOT outrank Parliament which, since we moved to a constitutional monarchy is THE sovereign authority and needs no more power than it already possesses.
    She is not a law unto herself any more than when as Home Secretary she found herself overruled by the ECJ for breaches of human rights law in her xenophobic pursuit of non-UK citizens to slash net immigration numbers.
    She listens to no one; she consults no one, she meets no ordinary voters lest they say something she disagrees with. No matter how much she bangs on about ‘democracy’ and ‘the will of the people’, her instincts are totalitarian.

  • Peter Hirst 7th Jan '19 - 4:07pm

    The purpose of a constitution is to modify or not allow expression of one person’s instincts however powerful they are at the expense of the electorate. Politicians need continually reminding that they are the servants of the people. They are well paid for quite an interesting job with a high quality of life; would they prefer to be high court judges?

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