“We are not going to let them anywhere near power again” – a PM too comfortable with power

Theresa May has not even been Prime Minister for two months. However, she is already displaying a complacency in power that is quite chilling.

At only her second Prime Minister’s Questions, she had this to say to Jeremy Corbyn:

What we do know is that, whoever wins the Labour party leadership, we are not going to let them anywhere near power again.

These are not the words of a Prime Minister who believes that power comes from the people.

You could dismiss that as banter if the Tories were not trying to stitch up the entire political system in their favour. Lib Dem Peer Paul Tyler warned of a crisis of legitimacy in parliamentary democracy if the boundary changes were allowed to go through:

Reducing the number of MPs without also reducing the size of the Executive is a mistake. With the pay-roll vote approaching half the membership of the government side of the Commons, the power of government to control Parliament is increased. And with no prospect of democratic reform of the Lords, we are edging towards a dangerous lack of democratic legitimacy in parliament.

The Conservatives are blatantly attempting to fix the system to keep themselves in power.

Individual electoral registration means that young people who move around a lot are unlikely to be on the electoral register – and they would be more likely not to vote Conservative. In April this year, a report, Missing Millions, outlined why this matters:

Under-registration is a serious problem because it leaves our democracy less representative of its citizens. An incomplete register can also lead to unregistered people being unable to vote on polling day when they might believe that they are registered. Studies show that many citizens think that they are on the register because they pay their council tax and assume that the Government ‘knows about them’. Worryingly, many would-be voters were turned away from the polls at the 2015 General Election because they were not registered. Two-thirds of polling stations turned away at least one would-be voter at the 2015 General Election because they were not on the electoral register.

And before anyone owns up for me, I know that legislation passed on our watch. It was improved by our peers, but there are problems with the law and it is in desperate need of reform.

It’s taken all our Paul Tyler’s guile, cunning and knowledge of parliamentary procedure to stop the Tories from skewing party funding even more in their favour by compromising the ability of the opposition to raise money.

At the Demo for Democracy in early May, Sal Brinton outlined all the various aspects of the Tories’ power grab:

George Osborne announced he was going to get rid of the Lib Dems – but I think it is broader than that. The Tories are determined to eliminate (I choose the word carefully) any opposition: the Trades Union Bill, where they have tried to make it almost impossible for Labour to receive funding from unions; proposing cuts to Short money for opposition party (both of which they have had to make substantial changes to after opposition), as well as their proposals to reduce the number of MPs to 600, which will disproportionately affect Labour and smaller parties. Be under no illusion: the Tories’ desire to ‘get rid of their opponents’ is real.

Theresa May’s seemingly offhand comment is not the first time the Tories have used this sort of language. Dan Hodges, in a Telegraph column just after Corbyn was elected leader, drew attention to an email from Tory HQ which said:

 Labour’s new leader is a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family’s security.” It concluded: “We can’t ever let Labour back into power again.”

Hodges said:

Politics is a rough game. But it is still a game with rules. It’s entirely legitimate for a political party to beat its opponents. Even crush its opponents, as Margaret Thatcher did with Labour in 1979, and Tony Blair did with the Conservative party in 1997. But destroying its opponents so they literally cease to exist is something different.

Labour have had their own issues with being too comfortable with power, One of the most amusing things at the moment is seeing the looks of pure astonishment on Labour’s Manchester councillors as our John Leech dares to hold them to account. But a system that allows the votes of so many people in Manchester to mean nothing is not a healthy one.

Power comes from the people. It doesn’t look like the Tories have much respect for that notion, given the way they are behaving. There is more behind May’s comment than meets the eye, and that is very dangerous for our democracy.

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

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  • To be fair to May, the Tories seem to be the only party who seriously want to be in power at the moment, judging by the unbelievably self-destructive behaviour of Labour and the Lib Dems over the past six years.

    As a lifelong left-of-centre voter, I despair of ever seeing the centre/left coalesce around a credible and electable party again.

  • Eddie Sammon 7th Sep '16 - 8:39pm

    I saw that comment from Theresa May and didn’t like it. Lots of people still hate the Tories and to sound so contemptuous of the opposition looks like not caring why. Or maybe not realise how widespread or deeply felt it is.

    The Liberal Democrats still have a good brand. I’ve never had a friend argue with me because I’ve said I support the Lib Dems and they all know. However I know several who would think less of me if I said I supported the Conservatives.

  • You can have a go at Mrs May all you want, but she seems to be popular with the electorate and is head and shoulders above anyone the Labour party and Lib Dems have. There is absolutely nothing coming from Labour or the Lib Dems to worry the Tories at the moment.

  • Until the left and centre-left have policies that are broadly acceptable to the majority of British people as they understand them now then she is right. The left are in a crisis over migration (the `m word`), Trade, Brexit, globalism – in a one-way street if you like to oblivion.

    Until it embraces Brexit instead of just disparaging it, defines what migration means (the whys, the amounts and the rights of EVERYBODY here) and how it affects those at the bottom and demands proper trade deals with the EU and globally it’ll be seen by the vast majority of people as naysayers. Far more interested in niche issues than the mainstream.

  • nigel hunter 7th Sep '16 - 10:07pm

    The Tories have all the power. Having power is sweet, you want more of it. Once you have it you do not like to loose it. It is seen all around the world (Syria?) Opposition is not wanted, you do what you can get away with. The voters at the moment might be happy with the present situation but that does not mean it will last forever. What happens when the mood changes but the voter has no alternative to vote for?

  • Stevan Rose 7th Sep '16 - 10:54pm

    Labour are unelectable at present, we’re stuck on around 8%, UKIP will collapse without Farage. But there are charismatic Labour contenders like Umunna who could wipe the floor with May and friends. May’s words are just those of a politician trying to look confident. The Tories have been heavily defeated several times before, it’ll happen again.

  • Theresa May is living on borrowed time. Sooner or later, and it could be sooner rather than later, she is going to have to explain to the British people that Brexit cannot happen without causing catastrophic damage to Britain and Europe. The national interest dictates that she should be telling us this now, but she chooses to put her party’s interest first by going through the motions of Brexit meaning Brexit, thereby placating Murdoch and Rothermere and her own hard right. The Americans may have told her that she can play this pretence for a while, but how long are they going to put up with the continuing and growing uncertainty? The Tory Party is a volcano just waiting to erupt.

  • David Allen 8th Sep '16 - 12:13am

    Yes, May has begun to display all Cameron’s arrogance and more. Today’s ITV News played a clip of an SNP MP asking a perfectly straightforward question as to whether we would seek to remain in the Single Market. May responded with a quite unjustified (and insincere) expression of contempt for the question and the questioner. It sounded bad. That political honeymoon will be shorter than most, at this rate.

  • Paul Revell 8th Sep '16 - 7:19am

    May got to be PM by arguing that she was competent and her other rival candidates were not. Similarly, she is taking the same approach by dismissing the opposition as being unfit. At the moment, Labour just keep doing their best to prove her right.

    Once the boundaries are shifted and Labour loses more seats, their inability to leverage their position will be underlined in bold. As for us Liberals, losing half of our seats will confirm our role on the sidelines for the foreseeable future.

  • I am old enough to remember Mr. Thatcher saying much the same thing about destroying Labour…..
    May isn’t Thatcher and, having saddled herself with “Larry, Curly and Mo” to oversee ‘Brexit’ she has already shown that her basis judgement is flawed and Boris is waiting his chance for top-job…

    “What goes around, comes around”…

  • paul barker 8th Sep '16 - 2:52pm

    Obviously the present logjam wont last.
    At some point The Government will have to spell just what Brexit means & then we will see how The Markets, Tory backbenchers & The Voters react.
    At some point Labour will split formally.
    UKIP may split too, certainly they are going to be clobbered next May.
    We have shown signs of recovery but the evidence is patchy. We seem to have made steady progress in Local byelections but our average Polling has gone down (as is usual at this stage of a Parliament) & then gone up again. The voters (some of them) seem to see a role for us in Local Government but not yet at Westminster.

  • Things can change quickly. One feature of the last two parliaments is that the Tories have been leading a charmed life where difficult bye-elections have been concerned. Corby at the beginning of the last parliament or maybe Newark shortly after were their last serious defences. Surely this can’t go on. We really need a BE in the SE or SW.

  • David Evershed 9th Sep '16 - 3:48pm

    Young people are more likely not to vote Lib Dem than not to vote Conservative.

    So a greater incentive for Lib Dems to keep them off the electoral register than for Conservatives to do so.

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