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.”
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