As a Conservative Party member and someone who actively campaigned for Brexit, I care deeply about democracy. That’s why I think the Prime Minister needs to hold a general election as soon as possible.
One of the major criticisms made of the European Union during the referendum was its unelected executive, the European Commission, and the fact that the public had little to no influence over its composition. It would therefore be foolish not to hold a similar principled opposition to the way the British political system is organised, specifically in the handover of the prime ministerial position. The idea that the head of the UK executive can change almost instantly without any direct electoral process screams nothing less than a loud defiance of democracy. This individual is the most powerful person in the country, and the fact that such a position can shift from one person to another, “no questions asked”, with the only factor being their popularity within a party, astounds me.
As a Conservative, my desire for an election to be held is purely principled. It is not driven by a hunger for a larger majority, but because I want Britain to uphold democracy as it has historically always done. It is undeniable that May’s policies have not been put to the public at all, and May herself hasn’t faced any democratic test beyond gaining the acceptance of her parliamentary party – this hardly maintains Britain’s reputation as the birthplace of democracy. Theresa May’s policies and her own position as prime minister have no direct democratic legitimacy that a prime minister would usually get from a general election.
Some argue that this is enough, that the Parliamentary Party is part of the elected legislature and thus have the legal and democratic ability to change the leader of the country at will. Yes, she was elected by the legislature who in turn were elected by the public. But in this modern era, to a largely uninformed electorate, general elections have largely become de facto “prime ministerial elections” – while this is not legally the case, most people cast their vote on the basis of who becomes prime minister. From this, we can say that the government was elected on the premise of putting David Cameron as prime minister, and thus has no legitimate ability, in a de facto sense, to pick and choose the Prime Minister. The Conservatives were elected on a “Cameronite” platform, the MPs were elected on a “Cameronite” platform, not a “Mayite” one. It is necessary to have an election to put in a government elected on the premise of having this new prime minister.
While this is only an argument made from a de facto and not de jure sense, it still stands on principle. Is it really justifiable that the most powerful person in the country can be decided by people who were elected to put in place someone else as prime minister? I would go further to say that the entire system should be reformed. It should become statute law, or if necessary become the first act of any future British constitutional entrenchment, that upon the resignation of a prime minister, a general election should be called for the new party leader to gain democratic legitimacy from the public. And perhaps in the longer term, it may be necessary to call for a separation of powers in the British political system, and for Parliament and prime minister to be separately elected, so that the British political system can finally be democratised to bring it in line with most major Western democracies.
Also, I might add that although it is not an argument made on principle, it would not be unreasonable, given recent opinion poll leads of 14 points for Mrs May, to suggest that it would in fact be in her own interest to call one as well.
But a strong, principled argument that Theresa May must hold a general election still stands: if she does not, she risks infringing on the traditional British principle of democracy itself, just as Gordon Brown did in 2007. Theresa May needs to legitimise her policies and her position to uphold our new post-Brexit democratic Britain. Only an election victory can do that.