Please don’t blame the MPs for not delivering whatever Brexit...
So we are to have another General Election, the third in four and a half years. The need for this is obvious. The Government did not have a majority and lost every important vote except the last one, to call this election. Parliament and the people are deeply divided on the issue of leaving the European Union. Despite two attempts, by Theresa May and Boris Johnson, to negotiate terms for leaving, neither gained the support of a majority of MPs. Nor were they supported by business interests and the ‘Remainers’ in the country.
Regardless of one’s views about Brexit, the election has drawn attention to some disturbing issues in British politics. First, as many as 50 experienced MPs are not standing in the election. Inevitably some of them defending small majorities might have lost their seats but it is the reason why some are quitting that is worrying. Significant in the list of retirees are 18 women, including some who have held Ministerial office – people like Amber Rudd, Nicky Morgan, Justine Greening, Claire Perry, Gloria De Piero and Heidi Allen. They have had enough of the abuse directed at them and their families in emails and social media.
Another cause for concern from a Christian perspective is the number of mature Christian MPs who are standing down. The list includes people like Alistair Burt, Caroline Spelman, David Lidington, Rory Stewart, Jeremy Lefroy and Stephen Pound, as well as Rudd and Morgan already mentioned. Apart from Lefroy they have all held high office and their spiritual maturity will be missed as well as their political experience.
A further matter for those loyal to the Conservative party is that most of those standing down belong to the moderate One Nation brand of Conservatism. Their departure may leave the Conservative party as a more right wing party primarily defined as a Brexit Party that will not attract support from the younger voters for whom leaving the European Union is not the big issue in the way that it is for Iain Duncan Smith, Jacob Rees Mogg and other right wingers.
Another cause for sadness is the departure of John Bercow, the retiring Speaker, who for the last ten years has over seen the modernisation of House of Commons procedure. At the final Prime Minister’s Questions each of the party leaders and various backbench MPs paid tribute to his leadership. His most significant achievement has been to give backbenchers much more time and opportunity to hold the Government to account. They are now able to ask Urgent Questions in any sitting, requiring Ministers to come to the House at relatively short notice to answer them. This has shifted the balance from Ministers to ordinary MPs.
We will have to wait and see whether this election returns a Government with a working majority but there are some signs that it might not. First, if Brexit is the key issue for voters, their votes might be split between the Conservatives and the Brexit party. Those wanting us to remain in the EU may switch their support to the Liberal Democrats and to the SNP in Scotland. The polls are currently showing the Conservatives in the lead but they also did that in 2017, when Theresa May went on to lose her majority support.
One might also be forgiven for hoping voters will also be concerned about other issues than Brexit, such as climate change and the need for increased spending on the health service, schools and the police. The economy is not so strong that major increases in public spending can easily be made available. In an increasingly dangerous world we also need wise Ministers in the Foreign Office and some of those who have served there well will no longer be available in the new Parliament.
If ever there was a need for prayer for the nation it is in the next five weeks, that wise and Christ-centred people are elected to lead us out of the confused and divided state our nation is currently in.