Theresa May’s Failed Gamble: The UK Election and the Limits of Democracy
Written by Moses Bratrud on June 14, 2017
After the election on June 8, millions of Britons woke up and scratched their heads. Though it was the third exhausting nationwide vote in three years, with millions of new voters casting their ballots for the first time, the result was…inconclusive. Theresa May endured a stunning, almost regime-ending setback. Or did she? Jeremy Corbyn is on the cusp of forming a new government and entering 10 Downing Street. Or is he? I want to come to terms with these events and what they could mean for the United Kingdom. But the importance of this election goes beyond the shores of that small archipelago: the UK election can teach us a lesson about the nature, and limits, of democracy. So, what happened?
The election was a broad defeat (but not total destruction) for Prime Minister Theresa May and the Conservative party, with the Labour party performing very well and getting almost 10% more of the vote than in the last general election, only 2% less than the Conservatives. Theresa May is left clinging to power, but the sharks aren’t circling just yet. There’s a crucial reason for this: the sharks don’t have the votes. Here’s what it looks like if you add the MPs of all the Left wing parties:
Labour Party: 262 Seats
Scottish Nationalist Party: 35 Seats
Liberal Democrat Party: 12 Seats
Plaid Cymru: 4 Seats
Total: 313 Seats
The Conservatives, on the other hand, won 318 (a decrease of 13). This means that although Theresa May’s Government suffered a defeat by some measures, the Conservatives still won the most votes and the most seats–just not a majority in the 650-seat House of Commons.
The morning after the election, Theresa May announced that she would form a minority government with the support of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), who won 10 seats. After a blistering election night, I had to admire the chutzpah it took to leave 10 Downing Street and make that announcement.
So, who on Earth are the DUP? Essentially they are socially conservative and fiscally moderate, and their main goal is to keep Northern Ireland part of the United Kingdom. Because of the oddities of the UK electoral system, regional parties like the DUP in Northern Ireland can gain a disproportionate amount of seats and become power brokers as the larger parties seek to get more votes. That’s what’s happening here.
This might look like desperation on Theresa May’s part, but it’s also good politics. And the Labour party simply didn’t get the votes and seats needed to turn her out of office–yet.
If Theresa May’s weakened government is to survive, it needs to get past the next hurdle–The Queen’s Speech. An artifact of an earlier age,
the Queen’s Speech is the centrepiece of the State Opening of Parliament. In brief, it’s a list of laws that the new government wants to get approval of over the next 12 months – marking the start of the Parliamentary year. It also contains a list of foreign visits that the Queen plans to make for the year as well as the state visits to the UK.
After the Speech, the Members of Parliament will vote on the Government’s agenda. A majority of MPs voting “No,” would constitute a motion of no confidence, and the government would dissolve. Potentially, yet another general election could result. So hopes Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Corbyn, buoyed by his surprisingly strong showing in the election, plans to use the Queen’s Speech vote to bring down Theresa May’s government, and he’s making no secret about it. As recently as this week he could be seen on one of Britain’s most popular chat shows purring contentedly about the prospect of another election in which Labour could take power.
We don’t have time here to talk about the other eccentricities of the Queen’s Speech and the Opening of Parliament, such as the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, more’s the pity, but we need to move on to grasping what this election means.
Democracy is supposed to bring certainty, but it frequently creates confusion. It is supposed to give powerful people the popular mandate that is crucial in an open society. Sinful humans, after all, are not usually shy about expressing what it is they want, and democracy gives them ample opportunity to do that. In the last few years, we’ve seen decisive votes: from Barack Obama’s command performances in 2008 and 2012 to Emmanuel Macron’s powerful victory in the French election just last month.
The British election, on the other hand, didn’t tell us much at all about what the people want. The result, in which Left wing parties did well but not well enough to take power, sends decidedly mixed messages.
We can glean a lesson here about the limits of human government–of democracy. Democracy is supposed to empower us; it’s supposed to give us a voice. A democratic government is supposed to be ruled by its people. But that doesn’t really happen. Too often democracy silences minority voices, and it opens the door to strongmen like Mussolini–or Trump.
But that’s not the real problem with Democracy. What is a Christian voter after? What is his goal? It’s not, or it shouldn’t be, just to get what we want. Instead, it is about securing a government that will protect the freedom to serve our true Lord. We participate in democracy in order to secure our freedom to swear fealty to our Lord. “The LORD has made the heavens his throne; from there he rules over everything” (Ps. 103:19). God’s heavenly kingdom is the only government that will truly give us a voice, by uniting our will to that of the Son of God. And it isn’t a democracy.
Voters in the UK are left with uncertainty and indecision at the highest levels of government because of the mixed nature of the election result. Christians have no such worries. The results of the election are in, and our nation, our church, the new Israel, is under God’s electoral mandate. There is nothing inconclusive about that.