8.45 p.m. Theresa May has just made her (fairly) eagerly-awaited statement on Brexit to the cameras in No.10. Some people thought she was going to announce her resignation. No chance. Instead she simply reasserted the position she has held for over two years now: ‘my deal is the only one’. MPs felt insulted that she had not made the announcement to them first, in the House of Commons, according to constitutional convention. We now know why. She feels herself to be above Parliament. It is Parliament, and in particular ‘navel-gazing MPs’, who have obstructed her all along – twice by huge majorities. She was now appealing directly to ‘the people’, because ‘I’m on your side’ – against, that is, those partisan and out-of-touch politicians. That point, about politicians not representing the ‘will of the people’, has been the argument splashed over Right-wing tabloid front-pages for months now. It is, of course, a typically ‘populist’, and even potentially fascist, line.
Before her public statement there was an ‘emergency debate’ in the Commons about the way the government – and she in particular – have been pursuing Brexit. She didn’t attend – preparing her statement, perhaps, or possibly in Brussels or Strasbourg – but was savaged in absentia from all sides. A prominent Tory said that she (May) made her ‘weep’, and ‘ashamed to be a Conservative’. Virtually no one supported her. (Mind you, the Conservative benches were largely empty.) The main and repeated complaint was that she would never listen, especially to those who criticised her ‘deal’ and offered viable alternatives (like Corbyn’s). Instead the only ‘compromise’ she would brook required her critics to agree with her.
So: it’s her, representing ‘the people’, against the politicians, or the Establishment, or the elite, or whatever you like to call them. I imagine that’s her idea of ‘leadership’. It really does chime in with history’s right-wing populists and Fascists, and also, of course, with Donald Trump. Fortunately for us, May seems to be too dull, rigid and unimaginative to make it work for her like it did for them.
Besides, Britain is essentially – if imperfectly – a Parliamentary democracy. May is Parliament’s servant, not the other way around. That’s what has kept us safe from populism and Fascism for so long. And Brexiteers claim to be defending it!