Brexit

By Backing May, British Conservatives Are Proving They're Not the Adults in the Room

They're more than happy to continue a constitutional impasse rather than risk mild social democracy.

by Simon Childs
Jan 16 2019, 4:15pm

Photo: Jake Lewis

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

Everyone was shocked at the scale of Theresa May’s defeat in the vote on her Brexit deal last night. We knew it would be big enough for the history books, not that it would top the charts. But that's where it's going: straight in at number one. It's the biggest defeat for a sitting government in modern British parliamentary history.

In that context, it’s galling that Labour's Vote of No Confidence will fail today. When Jeremy Corbyn announced it, right after May’s response to the result of the Brexit vote, there was a sense at last that we might see some change, a chance of something moving. Brexit has been marked by intransigence. May has kicked the can endlessly down the road, Corbyn has matched that with constructive ambiguity. Circumstances have meant that neither would grasp the nettle.

But circumstances changed. Maybe it was the rumbling from the Labour grassroots. Perhaps it was the impossibility of not changing course when presented with such an obvious landmark. Either way, it finally fell to Corbyn to take the next brick out of Britain’s political Jenga tower, so today there will be a confidence vote. Surely a prime minister this bad has to lose?

Nope. As soon as the reporters for the evening news packages started asking top Tories [supporters of the UK's more conservative party] if they would finally put May out of her misery, it became clear that she will win, showing precisely why Corbyn prevaricated for so long in the first place.

Tory MPs will for once back a prime minister who they have done everything else to undermine. Not because they actually have confidence in the her—God no!—but because they are afraid of a Labour government. What’s a constitutional crisis compared to the horrors of mild social democracy?

The political editor of Newsnight put it to Boris Johnson: "You've helped inflict the biggest defeat on any prime minister in the modern era. So presumably people will be voting against the prime minister in the No Confidence motion tomorrow."

To which he responded, "I certainly will not… I will be voting for the government and for the prime minister because the option of having Jeremy Corbyn now is truly alarming. I certainly don’t want that."

Tory MPs are standing up in parliament today to say the same thing—that an "extreme" left wing government would be too damaging to contemplate. It can't be allowed to happen. And so they’re going to shit house their way to supporting a prime minister who has lost all of her authority, because they find the left more "alarming" than Theresa May continuing as an undead PM.

They’re voting to save, by the way, the Prime Minister who gave us the Windrush scandal, who has overseen the disastrous roll out of Universal Credit, and who has utterly retoxified the Conservative Party with her nationalistic rhetoric.

If politics had its priorities straight, any of those things could have been scandalous enough to see her booted out, but as it is she will be saved by her Tory frenemies, who fear a government that might be somewhat less miserable.

Politicians who have spent the last couple of years talking about respecting democracy are now happy to risk the integrity of parliament to pretend they have confidence in a prime minister, when they obviously don’t because they think that people might vote wrong.

One of the more convincing arguments against a second referendum is that it would simply be an elite class saying to the public, "Nope, sorry, you got this wrong, try again." Fair point, but that’s exactly what Boris Johnson is going to preemptively do today. His argument in the face of an impasse is simply: "A vote? But they might pick the commies!"

A general election wouldn’t overcome Britain’s political dysfunction just like that, but in backing May, the Tories—who like to pretend to be the grown-ups in the room—are showing that they would rather extend and deepen a constitutional crisis than risk not getting their way.

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