Naked Politics Blogger
Two hung parliaments in three elections shows a nation divided. Whoever governs must seek to heal this division and reflect on why there has been an electoral shift towards progressive policies. Instead Theresa May has sought sanctuary in the illiberal backwaters of the DUP.
Jeremy Corbyn has steered Labour to the left and presented the most radical and progressive manifesto seen at the polling station in generations. What resulted was the biggest increase in vote share since Clement Attlee in 1945 and significant shifts towards Labour and a rejection of Theresa May as PM. The electorate has clipped the wings of the Tory government and removed its ability to govern, and yet it remains in power, leaving May “squatting in Downing Street”.
When May claimed that she would “reflect on the results” of the election it seemed to suggest that she would consider the reasons the voter share lurched to the left. Instead, she opted to seek refuge in the barren landscape to the right of the Conservative party resulting in the arch-conservative, regressive Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) becoming the unlikely power brokers in a weak and wobbly minority government. Opposition to the Abortion Act and to same-sex marriage are long off the Conservative agenda and yet those are the views of their potential partners in government.
The willingness of May to govern under these shaky conditions without reflecting or reaching out to the lost voters has been shown in the appointments of Michael Gove and Gavin Barwell. Both appointments prioritise the stability of May’s role within her own party whilst showing contempt for those who didn’t vote for the Conservative Party on June 8th.
Appointing Michael Gove as the new Environment Secretary seems about as unsuitable an appointment as DUP leader Arlene Foster would be as Women and Equalities Minister or indeed anyone in the Tory Party as Minister for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs (a post which, amusingly, does not exist in May’s cabinet but does on Labour’s shadow team). Environmental groups and progressive parties have been quick to point out Gove’s atrocious environmental credentials. Voting down measures to tackle climate change as well as attempts as education secretary to remove climate change from the Geography curriculum cast grave doubts on his suitability to the job as President Trump threatens to terminally derail global progress on the issue. Combating this requires strength both from the PM and from the environment secretary, we are left with neither. Gove’s appointment is a provocation of progressive politics both on the left, and in the centre and shows, once again, that May has no interest in reaching out to her lost voters.
Gavin Barwell’s appointment as Chief of Staff, replacing her previous diabolical strategists, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy is yet another failure by May to engage with consequences of her election defeat. Her former advisers were deeply unpopular with Tory MP’s and seemed to have far too much power in Number 10. Barwell is fairly popular with Tories and a moderate who may well be able to heal wounds within the parliamentary party and yet he became one of the biggest scalps of election night, losing his Croydon Central seat, and with it his cabinet brief. Whilst Barwell may have a soothing effect within May’s inner sanctum as her unelected chief adviser, it remains to be seen how the general public will react to the move to elevate a man to the heart of government less than a week after he was rejected at the ballot box.
The most progressive manifesto in a generation turned May’s anticipated rout into a de-facto defeat that in any other election would have seen her ousted from office. If she is to cling to power she must not ignore the progressive swing of the electorate. By getting into bed with the DUP May has shown disregard for the electorate and has shown once again, how utterly out-of-touch Downing Street has become under her premiership. It is a failure of a defunct system that a rejected government can cling to power by allying itself to a minor party whose views bear no relation to the UK electorate as a whole and that the makeup of our government today bears no relation to the votes cast at the ballot box.