What price a “strong, stable government”?
On 23rd June 2016, Britain voted by a narrow majority to leave the European Union, spreading consternation and dismay throughout large swathes of the UK and the rest of the world. Shortly afterwards, David Cameron resigned as Prime Minister and was succeeded in 10 Downing Street by Theresa May, who had been Home Secretary in his government and, like Mr Cameron himself, a staunch supporter of continuing EU membership. Notwithstanding her personal stance on the matter, Mrs May made a public commitment to ensuring that the “divorce proceedings” with the EU would result in the best deal for Britain. That seemed like an honourable submission to the democratically-expressed will of the electorate.
Mrs May made a number of other public commitments at the outset of her premiership and has since reiterated them. She assured the electorate that she was the friend of those who were struggling, socially and financially; she was going to bring the country together and heal its many divisions; she would strengthen our educational provision; she would protect and enhance our health and social services; and there would be no general election until the current parliament had run its term, i.e. in 2020. She has recently called a general election to be held on 8th June, 2017.
Cynics have suggested she’s made this announcement because the main opposition party (Labour) is currently very weak, internally divided, and led by a man (Jeremy Corby) who – though principled, articulate and honourable – is not widely considered a potential prime minister. However, Mrs May insists that her announcement was motivated only by the need to ensure “strong, stable government” to support her during the now-initiated “Brexit” negotiations.
It would be invidious to point out that “strong, stable governments” during the recent past have included Franco’s Spain and Ceaucescu’s Romania. It would also be invidious to suggest that merely because Mrs May repeated her public pronouncement that there would be no general election until 2020 eleven times, her decision to seek a new mandate in June 2017 implies that her word can’t be trusted. Surely we can still be certain that she’s the friend of those who are struggling, socially and financially, will bring the country together and heal its many divisions, and will protect and enhance our health and social services. Indeed, she’s announced that the country is coming together, though this seems to fly in the face of evidence for continuing and deepening divisions between rich and poor, Scots and English, ethnic groups (especially within cities), and – above all – EU-supporters and “Brexiteers”.
Meanwhile, the National Health Service is in crisis. It’s understaffed and desperately under-resourced. Patients are suffering and in several cases dying unnecessarily. Morale within the service is low.
Social care, especially care for the elderly, is beyond crisis. In several areas of the country it’s on the point of collapse. Integration between social care and the Health Service is non-existent in many parts of Britain, or at least England. This is largely a consequence of the deep cuts in local government financing, which the government will continue to impose in order to pay off the financial deficit resulting from the international crisis of 2008 and after.
Our schools are cutting courses and even shortening the teaching week because they don’t have the staff or the financial resources to continue providing the education our young people need.
The prison service is in dire straits, too. Again it is understaffed and under-resourced and the courts are sending more people to prison. There are riots, and the situation within many jails is downright dangerous.
But are Mrs May and her Conservative government drawing attention to any of these problems, which collectively indicate that the UK is in a serious and worsening plight? Not in the least. As far as Mrs May and her colleagues are concerned, the forthcoming election is about Brexit, Brexit and Brexit, in that order. It’s all about having a strong, stable government that will achieve the best deal for Britain during negotiations with the EU. The question is whether there’ll be any sort of Britain to benefit from this mirage of a “best deal” by the time the negotiations are over.
Looking around me, I have the impression of a country that’s becoming more and more impoverished – and disintegrating. And Mrs May and her increasingly hollow-sounding promises are doing nothing to help.