Britain’s general election, scheduled for 8 June 2017, is being conducted on presidential lines. Theresa May is offering “strong stable leadership” and the Conservative Party’s publicity material is emphasising her personality rather than policy issues. There are problems with this approach:
- She is exploiting a deep human instinct, in turbulent times, to look for a strong leader. She is offering authoritarian populism in the style of Donald Trump. She presents herself as a strong negotiator, being confrontational, anti-immigrant, and making promises which will be hard to fulfil.
- Her desire to sweep aside opposition, and to dispense with the checks and balances of parliamentary scrutiny, is fundamentally undemocratic.
- Strong leaders tend to become hubristic, not taking advice and failing to harness the strengths of a cabinet team.
- The opposition in Britain is currently weak and divided. It does not have the appearance of being ‘a government in waiting’. This makes it unelectable in Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system. The opposition might win some seats by co-operation in a ‘progressive alliance’, but there is a real danger that it will not be possible to hold the government to account and that this could result in harm to large parts of the population.
The signs are, from her early interactions with the EU, that she is being confrontational in Brexit negotiations. This is precisely the wrong strategy. Britain and the EU need to work together to solve the problems presented by the Brexit decision. Co-operation would lead to a better outcome for all parties.