During the 2015 General Election campaign, Theresa May, as Home Secretary in the Con-Dem coalition, claimed that the emergence of a possible minority Labour government, backed by the Scottish National Party, would be the biggest constitutional crisis in Britain since the Abdication in 1936. May’s idea was met with derision.
In the recent General Election campaign, May and the Conservatives kept banging on about their offer of “Strong and stable government”. They contrasted this with the “Coalition of chaos” envisaged if the small Conservative majority was replaced by a progressive government led by Labour, with support from the SNP, Plaid Cymru, and the Green Party. The Tories also consistently smeared Jeremy Corbyn, saying his dialogue with Sinn Fein – which eventually helped the Good Friday peace agreement for Northern Ireland in 1998 – equated support for IRA terrorism.
Now we have a minority Conservative and Unionist government, with the weak and wobbly May desperately clinging on to power, through an unholy alliance with their “friends”, the Democratic Unionist Party.
Jeremy Corbyn has said that Labour, energised by a positive campaign (Jeremy is too modest to add that he has been an inspirational leader) stands ready to take power. As a political activist who supports a written constitution for Britain, I have concerns about the vagaries of the current unwritten constitution.
The Hansard Society has produced an excellent briefing on possible scenarios in a hung Parliament.
The document is well worth a read.
I wish to draw attention to a few specific points.
If May’s government is defeated on the Queen’s Speech, convention suggests she should resign as Prime Minister, and advise the Queen to invite Corbyn, as leader of the second largest party, to attempt to form a government (see pages 11-12). This is only a convention, which means May could suggest that the Queen try to appoint another Conservative (is that Boris Johnson, the £350 million man, waiting in the wings?) as potential Prime Minister.
The whole possible process of May proposing a Queen’s Speech, being defeated on this, and a subsequent vote of no confidence, followed by a vote of confidence in a new government, means the current uncertainty could last several weeks. The reference on page 13 to a “technical drafting error” in the Fixed Term Parliament Act casts further doubt on the transparency of the process.
Much has been made of the regressive nature of the DUP, who oppose gay marriage and abortion, but support creationism being taught in schools. There are also suggestions that the Conservative and DUP agreement conflicts with the legal responsibility of the Conservatives, as the British governing party, to be neutral in dealings with the Northern Ireland parties, in line with the Good Friday Agreement. With the governance of Northern Ireland in limbo, following the collapse of the Sinn Fein and DUP administration earlier this year, this has major implications.
There is also the elephant in the mainstream media room. The DUP have consistently had close links with loyalist terrorist organisations. For many years, the mainstream media have not so much underestimated the extent and horrors of loyalist terrorism, as pretended it simply does not exist.
Now where did this loyalist terrorism start? Back in 1912, when the Unionist Party, as the Conservatives were then calling themselves, founded the Ulster Volunteer Force, as a private army that sparked civil war in Ireland, and derailed the plan of a Liberal government to give Home Rule to Ireland.
Back in 1912, the Unionists argued there was no mandate for the Liberal government’s programme, as they were a minority administration, only kept in power by the informal support of Irish Nationalist MPs.
A century later, May is arguing the complete opposite to justify her Conservative government!
I think Labour should be very clear about what is happening, remain united, and press the case that we have the solution to the crisis. By keeping our nerve, Labour can win power, either in the new hung Parliament, or by our momentum leading to victory at the next General Election – widely expected to be held within the next few months.
May and the Tories – who cried wolf about a crisis in 2015 – have suddenly plunged Britain into something that has potential to be the most severe constitutional crisis for over a century.