Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
9 May 2017updated 09 Sep 2021 4:03pm

A Tory landslide does not equate to a mandate on Brexit

A letter to Theresa May about the general election. 

By Tobias Stone

Dear Theresa,

I have no doubt that on 9 June you will wake up to a huge Conservative victory in the general election. It will be tempting to look at that as a mandate from the people, especially relating to Brexit. It will be hard to resist saying that this vindicates your policies and approach as Prime Minister. The people have rejected the other parties, and a majority of them have voted for you, your vision, and your party.

You will stand at a podium outside the house you will no doubt now feel more like settling into, and will tell us that the people have voted for strong leadership, and you will bring stability. You will shout down any opposition to your plans stating that you won an election, fair and square, and you are exercising the will of the people. You will reassure us you will get the best deal for Britain in the Brexit negotiations, and you will thank the people for strengthening your position in those negotiations.

In Parliament, your Whips will tell your back benchers that they now have to toe the line. The people have backed your vision, and it would be undemocratic, and disloyal to the Party, to oppose you.

Meanwhile you will look across the Chamber at what’s left of any opposition in total disarray. The politician in you will love it. Who would not? A Prime Minister brought to power in a party coup, affirmed in a landslide election, with the Opposition in tatters. Now you can get on with securing your place in history, and your next election win. Well done.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

But of course, Mrs May – and you know it deep inside – this is not true.

Content from our partners
How to ensure net zero brings good growth and green jobs
Flooding is a major risk for our homes
Why competition is the key to customer satisfaction

When you wake up on 9 June, please remember these things as you walk out of the home you are likely to occupy for the next decade to speak to the people:

They say opposition parties don’t win elections, governments lose them, but in this instance it was the other way around. You, a highly trained heavyweight boxer, just picked a fight with a frail old man. You won, yes, but it was hardly a fair fight. You called the election when you knew you would win. Your own party passed a law to try to stop this happening, precisely because it is not good for our democracy or the country. You did not win this election, the Labour party lost it. That does not equate to a vote for you. This is not a mandate, and to claim it is would be cowardly and dishonest. You have manipulated the political process – very cleverly – to strengthen your career and wipe out your opposition. That is not a win. It is not a mandate.

Remember that any principled politician in parliament would agree that for our democracy to work well, whoever is in government needs a strong Opposition. That is how our system works. You have undermined that with your political manoeuvring. Just as with David Cameron, who called the Brexit referendum in order to become Prime Minister, and Boris Johnson, who backed Brexit in order to try to become Prime Minister, you have damaged the future of the country and the fundamentals of our democracy in order to achieve a personal aim, to become and remain Prime Minister. Jeremy Corbyn bears all the blame for the pathetic state of his party, but you bear the blame for taking advantage of that.  

A strong Prime Minister is one who can win, and rule, in the face of a co-ordinated and competent Opposition, both from across the Chamber and behind her on her back benches. A strong Prime Minister is one who commands the respect of a majority of the country, including those who voted against her. You are not a strong Prime Minister.

Remember that in the old days whoever was in power tried to rule for the whole country. Remember One Nation Conservatism – the responsible, magnanimous face of your party; people who felt it was their duty to rule for everyone, even the non-Conservative voters. After this election, it is likely that you will represent a minority of the people in this country, and that the majority will have nobody representing them in parliament. It may be the first time in living memory that so many British people feel this disenfranchised. This should make you very, very worried. We don’t know what will happen to the country when a majority of people are not represented by the political system. You will be leading a radical program that is opposed by more people than back it. You may have won a technical mandate, but you do not have the backing of the country, and they will voice their growing anger over time.

To be clear… forget the outcome of the referendum itself – the result of the vote – and instead look at what you must know is the sentiment of a majority of the nation. Brexit was voted in by a whisker. Perhaps if it had not been raining in London it would have gone the other way. So, the people who did not vote to Leave, plus the people who did not vote Conservative, plus the people who thought Brexit meant remaining in the Single Market, plus the people who will soon see prices go up, and incomes go down, all of those people do not back you, and I would wager they are a majority of people in this country. The fact that they voted chaotically for Labour, Lib Dem, Green, or not at all does not mean you have a mandate. You do not have ‘the people’ behind you.

You will ignore the fact that you are using the same language as President Erdogan of Turkey, who just claimed strength and stability as his excuse for pushing through a referendum that turned his country into an elected dictatorship. You will try not to lie in bed wondering whether an elected dictatorship – a ‘managed democracy’ – is a good thing just because a majority voted for it, or whether in fact it is wrong. Going down that path would maybe keep you awake at night. The parallels between Turkey and your election, mainly created by your own language, should make you uncomfortable. Reducing the political discourse to a series of repeated soundbites may be what a non-thinking electorate deserves, but pandering to them is disrespectful to the institution of Parliament and to our democracy. This election was a power-grab and nothing more. Do not bask in any glory when you win. 

You are already preparing a narrative that will allow you to blame Europe if Brexit is a disaster. While it will make for good headlines in red top papers, it will not wash in the long term. History books will write about what you are about to do, and they will not look kindly upon you. Go and sit in a library alone, and think ahead about the history books future generations will read about you. Historians could end up writing about how you broke up the Union, led to a 20-year decline in the economy, a divided society, the collapse of the NHS, and decline of education standards. That is where you are heading.

Everyone says what you are doing is deluded and will fail. The Japanese government, the officials and politicians in Europe, economists, bankers, industrialists, entrepreneurs, academics, other politicians, your own party, and even you before you were Prime Minister – all called for Britain to stay in the EU. Are you really so confident as to ignore them all? Is that really confidence? Do you really believe you know better than all of them? Or are you just lost so far down a rabbit hole that you can’t turn around and get out? Do you sometimes pause in horror at what you’re doing, then realise you can’t stop so you just shut the fear out and carry on?

Maybe once you are secure as Prime Minister, for this term and probably for the next, could you please go on another hill-walking holiday and think all this through. You can afford to pause, you can afford to change tack. Yes, you probably have to pull the country out of the EU. And yes, the EU is itself absurd and broken, but it is still a huge trading bloc that our country needs. Could you now use the strength you perceive in your electoral win to allow you stand up to those pushing you into a ‘no deal’ situation? Could you go back to Brussels and say sorry, admit you are doing this reluctantly (your former self said it was a bad idea), and work with Europe to effect our exit amicably?

I implore you on behalf of everyone who will not vote for you, did not vote for Brexit, and who loves this country. We want it to be a place we can love into the future, a place we want to live in, that is thriving, happy, and united. That fate now lies entirely in your hands.