Scripture and theology alike tell us that nobody is ever tempted beyond his powers of resistance. Sometimes, however, temptation can be so strong that unstable characters succumb to their natural inclination to invest in the South Sea Bubble, to invade Russia, to elect Jeremy Corbyn leader of the Labour Party – or to hold an opportunistic general election with the same confidence of victory as Bonaparte at the moment he crossed the Niemen.
Hubris is a bad political instinct. Lord Hague, however, seems oblivious to this reality, despite his recent chastening experience at the referendum. It is surely not churlish to query the credentials as a political strategist of one who was a Eurosceptic in the 1990s and a Remainer in 2016, who now urges the repeal of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act and a snap general election.
The Hague Doctrine that a blitzkrieg election would annihilate Labour and lead to Tory hegemony for years, possibly decades, is superficially plausible; so was the Cameron Doctrine that a referendum on EU membership would lead to a Remain vote and the locking of Britain into the European Union for all time.
Yet there are many flaws in the Hague Doctrine. As is habitual, nobody within the establishment bubble understands the feelings of the electorate. These are becoming daily more inflamed and anti-establishment. Of course the public hates the House of Lords and wants to see an end to it, but it is equally hostile to the House of Commons.
The electorate is enraged by the fact it voted as long ago as June 2016 to leave the European Union, it is now March 2017 and nothing has been done to implement that decision, not even the firing of the starter gun. On the contrary, fresh obstacles have been put in the way of delivering what was mandated by an unprecedented proportion of the population in the largest vote ever held.
Naturally, along with the Lords, the public blames the Guyanan-born millionairess who used her wealth to enlist three judges to block Brexit and eight of the 11 Supreme Court judges who confirmed that frustration of the democratic will. The advancing tide of anti-establishment loathing, however, cannot be relied upon obligingly to halt there. Already the public is asking why Theresa May allowed all this subversion of its wishes to take place.
She knew the frenzied Remainers would use every conceivable means to reverse the decision of the despised people. That is why on the day she became Prime Minister she should have invoked Article 50 and presented Britain’s establishment enemies with a fait accompli. The plea that all the Five Straight ‘As’ and Starred Firsts in Whitehall needed more time to prepare for the travesty Brexit negotiations carries no credibility; nor, indeed, does the need for two years of negotiations, a classic Brussels fabrication. The priority was to kick-start Brexit while Brussels was still in shock and Theresa May failed to seize that opportunity.
That is why a Tory election victory cannot be taken for granted. Volatility and unpredictability are the only certainties in post-Brexit politics. The spectacle of a second constitutional issue preoccupying the political class while the Government attempted to repeal the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, purely for its own naked party advantage, could provoke a hostile reaction. Labour would be blatantly targeted for extermination and Britain often rallies to an under-dog, even one as rabid as Corbyn’s Labour.
Public opinion could sour during the repeal of the Fixed-Term Parliaments legislation. The Young Turks in Downing Street assume a general election would be a Copeland, rather than a Stoke, experience. UKIP, however, is an elusive quantity. If Brexit negotiations were stalled, as we can rely on Guy Verhofstadt and his merry men to ensure would be the case, or if Britain were conceding too much – the weasel word “compromises” is becoming too prominent in the Government’s vocabulary – UKIP’s fortunes could rise with dramatic consequences.
The Tory view is that UKIP is dead, finished, its leader a dud, so no threat is to be feared from that source. That is an acute misunderstanding that arises from analysing UKIP like any other political party; but UKIP is not any other political party, arguably it is not a party at all, but a movement, an idea.
Above all, it is a nuclear option, to punish the legacy parties and defend Brexit. Millions of voters who could not name UKIP’s leader will, if sufficiently outraged, place a cross opposite the equally unknown UKIP candidate to provoke a Trump-like tsunami. Many people will laugh heartily at that suggestion; one remembers when they laughed at the notion of Brexit.
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Then there is the whole concatenation of “events, dear boy”, comprising the economy, still unchecked immigration, conceivable terrorist outrage, etc for which a government invariably incurs the blame. There is no such thing as an election that is in the bag. Lord Hague is hubristic and deluded. Any effort to herd the electorate to the polls with Brexit unachieved would be a provocation.
Where Lord Hague is right is in denouncing the idea of fixed-term parliaments, an idea fundamentally antipathetic to British constitutional instinct and parliamentary practice – as is usual with any concept originating with the Liberal Democrats. The solution is to repeal the legislation after Brexit has been securely delivered, not to discredit the case for repeal by using it for party purposes to create a one-party ascendancy for a generation.
We should repeal that constitutional abomination in due course as a genuine reform, not as an attempt to imbalance the political environment. To return to the theological theme of temptation, let us take an Augustinian posture: Lord, give us repeal of fixed-term parliaments – but not yet.