Sketch: Theresa May's search for certainty in an unstable world

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 21 April 2017 in Comment

Instability is stability and uncertainty is certainty, but Brexit still just means Brexit

Theresa May sort of looked like she had been kidnapped. Standing outside Number 10, with the noise of helicopters buzzing overhead, the PM gazed about a foot above the camera, at some unseen figure looming behind, and read out a prepared statement on the need for an early election.

Brexit, May explained, is in the national interest. Yet the Opposition oppose it. “At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster,” she said, “but instead there is division. The country is coming together, but Westminster is not.”

She added: “Division in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit and it will cause damaging uncertainty and instability to the country.”


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Insecurity demands an election, because nothing screams stability like holding the second election in two years despite the head of government arguing repeatedly that there shouldn’t be one.

And to be honest, it wasn’t totally obvious how an election would make things more certain, especially given that, under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, the only thing anyone had been at all sure about was the fact that there wasn’t going to be another election for ages.

Of course, there was no proof it was a self-serving power grab, but then sometimes in politics, a feeling is enough – like how you wouldn’t leave Michael Howard unsupervised in a blood bank, or if you had 101 Dalmatian puppies, you probably wouldn’t let Angela Constance look after them.

But May seemed unconcerned. Swinging her head from side to side, like a hammerhead shark trying to catch a scent in the ocean, her confidence increased. “The decision facing the country will be all about leadership. It will be a choice between strong and stable leadership in the national interest, with me as your prime minister, or weak and unstable coalition government, led by Jeremy Corbyn, propped up by the Liberal Democrats, who want to reopen the divisions of the referendum, and Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP.”

It was hard to say how creating the chance of a “weak and unstable” coalition government would help foster stability. After all, if the prospect is so dangerous, why open the possibility of it happening?

The answer, it seemed, was that the coming chaos is necessary to provide stability. In this sense, instability is stability and uncertainty is certainty – though confusingly, Brexit still just means Brexit.

So Theresa May’s continued assault on the English language continued. Some leaders enter doomed wars on drugs, or on political correctness, or on Iraq. But the PM’s enemy is something more subtle – the convention of using language to convey meaning.

In fact, by the time May got round to explaining that “every vote for the Conservatives will make me stronger”, it was starting to sound a bit Orwellian. And of course, some would argue that, despite May’s demand for harmony in Westminster, unity in parliament is not actually that healthy in a democracy. Rather, a forceful opposition is a necessary check in stopping a polity from sliding into tyranny. But somewhat surprisingly, that view doesn’t seem to be shared by either the PM or leader of the opposition.

For his part, Jeremy Corbyn promised to offer an “alternative” in the upcoming vote, though it wasn’t particularly clear if he meant an alternative to Theresa May’s approach or to that of the Labour Party. He said: “I welcome the Prime Minister’s decision to give the British people the chance to vote for a government that will put the interests of the majority first.”

At least he was happy. For most people, the only positive to take was the knowledge that Professor John Curtice would soon be released from his pen and allowed wander the nation’s TV studios, like some hyper-aware ostrich searching for grubs.

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie was also happy, responding to say he was “relishing the prospect of this election” – though it came as little surprise, given the man seems to relish most things. He’s like a dog at a funfair – he may not fully understand what’s going on, but he can at least enjoy all the lights and noises.

Nicola Sturgeon, however, was less excited, describing the move as “one of the most extraordinary U-turns in recent political history”.

She said: “In terms of Scotland, this move is a huge political miscalculation by the Prime Minister. It will once again give people the opportunity to reject the Tories’ narrow, divisive agenda, as well as reinforcing the democratic mandate which already exists for giving the people of Scotland a choice on their future.”

And so for the SNP, the vote confirmed the need for another independence referendum – though to be fair, so did the last general election result, the Scottish Parliament election result, and Scotland voting against independence last time.

Still, the prospect of another vote looks great fun. Hopefully, we can all unite behind that.

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