Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Why It Matters That Theresa May Is Unelected

What happens when an unknown quantity is thrust into the highest seat of power in the state without so much as a sofa interview?

Ahead of this year's Conservative party conference a large portion of the press and broadcast media dedicated hours dissecting Theresa May - the politician - as well as Theresa May - the woman.

If you're feeling as if journalists this week are being especially superficial then you wouldn't be alone. Many appeared more keen to scrutinise the May family scones recipe than trouble themselves with less important matters such as the deeply troubling shift in the government's immigration rhetoric, or the militarisation of our prison system.

But this especially intense obsession with the superficial, which all of us share at least a little, is grounded in the fact that we know absolutely nothing about our prime minister.


The general consensus is that Theresa May used her conference speech to grab the 'centre ground' or even, to an extent, the centre-left of politics. 

Curious, then, that she managed to do this while drawing praise from the French far-right nationalist presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.

In my view, her speech was packed with rhetoric borrowed from the left and the right, lined with a few jokes, and hashed together in order to allow everybody to see into it anything they wanted to.

When a politician makes this sort of speech, packed with rhetoric but lacking any actual policy, it is usually deconstructed and rebuffed by lunchtime. But because we have no point of reference from which to judge her words, it forces us to take them at face value.

She has no record as prime minister. She has no manifesto. She has promised nothing, neither to her party, nor the country. Even her record as Home Secretary is foggy, with many citing the fact she had not been removed from the post as being her greatest achievement - begging the question as to what her other achievements, if any, may have been.


You can argue endlessly about whether or not our democracy is fit for purpose. But the process of an election, no matter how flawed, at the very least accomplishes several things.

First, within the context of our pseudo-presidential electoral system, any potential prime minister is measured up. We learn intimate details about them, their family, their home(s), their character, even their love life. And, although of less concern to the press, we learn about their management style and political philosophy - not overnight - but often over the course of several years (as leader of the opposition).

Second, the entire prospective government - party leaders as well as their frontbench teams - are forced to make promises and set targets against which they can be judged when they win power. 

Third, any policy proposed faces meticulous vetting by the media and the public. Generally, a good policy is received well, while a bad policy is thrown out. A good example of this is David Cameron's bizarre 'paid volunteering' scheme cooked up during the 2015 election campaign.

Finally, it forces political parties to shape their policy around what they believe the public wants, and not around whichever untested ideology they hold.

Theresa May's government - which we now know to be completely different from the government elected to power in 2015 in terms of personnel, policy, and philosophy - has not been subject to any of the above. This should worry us.