A few days ago, in a nation not far away, the British Prime Minister decided that what the UK really needed was yet another divisive political event. Because when your opponent is lying on the ground, bleeding, what they really need is one more kick to the guts. Another election now is not just irresponsible, as Labour MP Clive Lewis explains in his excellent piece for The Guardian, it is ruthless and Machiavellian. It is, in fact, straight out of Star Wars. We are living in Episode 2017: Revenge of the Tories.
At first, it was hard to greet Theresa May’s announcement of a snap General Election with much more than a weary ‘here we go again’ mentality. For many, it was like ripping off a scab too soon. Just when things were starting to heal, the wound was re-opened, and something raw, painful, and bloody was exposed once again. Within hours, the same arguments were doing the rounds on social media. Many people had had enough within 12 hours of the announcement.
One of the most repeated was the idea that losers should get over it, and get behind the democratic process. I would argue that many of us ‘sore losers’ were trying to do just that. Opposition is a fundamental right in democracy. It’s why the House of Commons has benches on both sides, why there is a shadow cabinet, and why there aren’t riots every time there is an election.
But Theresa May apparently views opposition, dissent, and disobedience as sabotage.
I’m not going to get into the Brexit debate again, other than to say that I still wish the result had come in for Remain. But in a democratic referendum, the result came in for Leave. And when Theresa May took over from shmoo-faced pig-lover David Cameron (who caused this entire mess, and as you can tell from my description, has not been forgiven), she faced the task of delivering a decision made by the people with a team of people voted for by the people, facing opposition who were also voted for by the people. That, my dears, is democracy.
She doesn’t get to pick the teams — we do. Sometimes that leads to complicated debate. And it can be difficult to Get Things Done when you have to debate all the time. She sees those pesky opposition MPs, who were democratically elected and are doing their actual job, as getting in her way. Making them agree — or getting rid of them — well, as Padme might say, that “sounds an awful lot like a dictatorship to me”.
Trying to detach from the situation and view it dispassionately, why wouldn’t May want to do this? It’s a ruthless, political masterstroke. Her main opponent, Labour, has been in disarray since Ed Miliband resigned, and wasn’t exactly united then. The Corbyn era has inspired devoted support from some quarters, but has completely alienated others. There was even talk of the party splitting in two at one point. The Liberal Democrats were annihilated at the last general election, tainted by their association with the Tories in the coalition. (Somehow, the Teflon Tories had emerged unscathed.) UKIP had served its one purpose, and even this party was in disarray, losing leaders with predictable regularity, and even losing their single MP. The SNP had destroyed Labour in Scotland, meaning that there is practically no way on earth Labour could win enough seats for a majority even if they stopped fighting among themselves. The tribal party lines have blurred in a way that no-one might have imagined. There were Leavers and Remainers in both of the main parties. Voters who could once have been counted on as core demographics, no longer vote in a predictable fashion. The Tories are the only ones who look like they are remotely in a position to win and get anything done. An election now would in all likelihood destroy May’s opposition.
Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, there was some legislation in her way. When the Tories and the Liberal Democrats formed a coalition in 2010, they brought in the Fixed-Term Parliament Bill, which meant that Prime Ministers can’t just call a general election when they feel like it. It was put in place to give the coalition a working chance. Her decision needed to be approved by Parliament.
What could the opposition parties do? If they voted against it, they would have been admitting that they had no chance of winning, and by voting for it, they would probably be putting themselves out of a job. But I don’t think many were viewing it in this way. I have the sinking feeling that they welcome this election because they think they have a fighting chance. They look at Cameron’s big gamble with the EU referendum, and suspect May is suffering from a similar level of hubris. “Here’s our chance”, they whisper. They are not just turkeys voting for Christmas — they have become Jar Jar Binks to May’s Palpatine.
Once she has destroyed her opposition, Supreme Chancellor May will be able to push forward with whatever she wants. There will be no-one left to question her, or debate with her. We will truly be united, for there will be only one way — hers.
It’s no coincidence that May and Palpatine use the same rhetoric — both appealing to the emotive concept of ‘safety’ in order to brand their opposition as ‘danger’ and ‘chaos’. It’s a tried and tested gimmick, and it usually works. Humanity has proven time and time again that it is prepared to accept and sacrifice a lot in the name of safety - including our freedom and our rights. Nothing encourages blind obedience like a spurious appeal to one’s safety.
Making political predictions is a fool’s game. I backed the losing team in person in 2015’s general election and 2016’s referendum, and in spirit in the US election. Looking back, that was optimism, and I’ve run out of it now. There’s no hope for the opposition parties. If I’m right, I can comfort myself with having seen it coming this time. If I’m wrong, well, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. But I won’t hold my breath.
In all reality, I can’t help thinking that it might be time for an extended hermitage in the Dagobah system.