So history has been made this week: David Cameron has become the youngest Prime Minister to leave office at the tender age of 49. In his place, former Home Secretary Theresa May, who was elected by…oh. That’s right. She hasn’t been elected at all. The new Prime Minister has assumed office with the backing of 199 Conservative MPs, a mere 0.0004% of the British electorate. Not even the Tory members were given a say (which would have improved the percentage to 0.03% of the electorate), after her rival Andrea Leadsom withdrew her challenge for the UK’s top job.
Whether or not you vote Conservative or whether or not you happen to be quite pleased with the “coronation” of Theresa May as Prime Minister, there can be no question that to assume office with the support of 199 people is in no way democratic and contradicts the claims from the Leave campaign in the recent EU referendum, of “taking back control” from “unelected leaders” in Europe. #awkward.
It is accurate to say that we do not have a presidential system here in the UK, thus meaning that when people vote in an election, they vote either for the party they wish to assume office or for their local representatives, and not for the candidate they wish to become Prime Minister. For me, this argument really hold firm against calls from the Liberal Democrats and others, for an early General Election.
The Conservative Party were elected into power last year on a mandate built around and taking into account the UK’s position inside of the European Union. That manifesto is now outdated, untenable and defunct. Whilst it is entirely the fault of the Conservative Party to have not put a plan in place for the eventuality of a leave result in the referendum, it must be acknowledged that the new government formed by Theresa May is acting in immensely different circumstances to those under which her party was elected last year.
There is an entirely new Cabinet. There is an entirely new agenda. There is an entirely different manifesto. The British people must be given a say on this new government and on this new post-Brexit era; without an election, Theresa May has no elected mandate and is leading an illegitimate government. The British people voted to leave the European Union, but in no way does that result indicate the sort of relationship people want the UK to have with our European neighbours. Each party should have the opportunity to put their case to the country, for the sort of future they see for the UK and the EU. People should be able to vote for which they prefer: whether it’s access to the single market and free movement from the Tories or remaining altogether from the Liberal Democrats, there needs to be a democratic decision taken to ensure people’s trust in the government does not falter.
Already there is talk of remaining within the single market and maintaining free movement of people, meaning continued payment into the EU budget along with a loss of influence at the debating table when trade laws are being made. Is this what people who voted leave really thought they were getting when they put that little cross in the LEAVE box on their ballot paper? I think for the majority, the answer is no. If we’re so obsessed with upholding the democratic right of the British people, then how does it make sense to take that right away by simply handing the premiership down to an unelected successor?
To ensure the continuation of democracy, to legitimise May’s premiership and to give the British people the opportunity to have their say on what they want the future of the UK’s relationship with the EU to look like, there must be a General Election. Without one, I can see many leave and remain voters alike, feeling extremely cheated by the actions of the forthcoming government, actions which will not have been mandated by the people they claim to represent.