May’s lack of conviction is a threat to democracy

Posted on

Twice in a couple of days we have learned that Theresa May is pursuing policies that will help define her government but in which she clearly has no personal belief. First there was Brexit, where her speech to Glodman Sachs clearly shows that all she is saying as PM does not reflect her personal opinion on the issue. Then there was Heathrow, where it is clear she believes that expansion is a mistake.

Does it matter? I think it does. People already hold politicians in low esteem. Having such a conflicted prime minister will only add to people's belief that politicians are liars. But it is more than that, because I can remember this conviction being explained to me when I was really quite young. The bigger concern is for our collective belief in the democratic process. This managed to survive the belief that politicians were liars for a very long time.

But now it is at risk. Many people now believe that there is some supra-system to which politicians think themselves answerable. I personally think that to be nonsense: I do not buy the conspiracy theory that there is co-ordinated power behind neoliberalism, thinking instead that the narrative is the power and it is definitely maintained, but in a much looser and unco-ordinated fashion than many think.

However, what is very clear from May's behaviour is that a Prime Minsiter does not now think they have the power to follow their convictions. They do think there are greater requirements than doing the right thing as they see it. And May, to be blunt, is willing to do what she obviously thinks is the wrong thing so that she can be Prime Minister. And that's where the danger lies.

It's one thing to think that politicians lie to help achieve what they think is the right thing.  But it's quite another to think they lie to achieve what they think wrong for the country just so they can be in power. In that context May is dangerous and a deep threat to democracy.

Is it any wonder that we have political populism on the rise? Or that the Pirate Party is leading opinion polls in the Icelandic general election? When the belief that politicians are not even trying to do what they think is right goes then either the democratic system comes under threat or the parties within it do. I sincerely hope the latter is the case.