What a relief! That was my first reaction the other day while sipping the first morning coffee and looking at my plasma TV and the inescapable Sky News (the reference to “plasma” TV does not indicate my personal wealth but a higher degree of shock with a huge display of figures demonstrating the government’s miscalculation!): a new hung parliament! A relief because the episode provided me with a good coursework topic for my students this academic year! And that was all; in all other respects the outcome of the elections I perceived as pretty catastrophic, not only for the party whose leader called the elections but for the country and the character of our democracy.
And then just when I thought I started enjoying my well-deserved summer break a student asked to meet to discuss the snap general election!
OK, I said; “Let’s meet today.”
The student introduced the topic:
“How could she call a general election when the Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011 does not allow for that convenience?”
“Wow”, I thought; my teaching strategy is working!
“Yes”, I said, “she could”.
And then this: “You told us that the very essence of a constitution is to implement the Rule of Law and prevent discretion; as you put it on a slide: ‘A society in which government officers have a great deal of discretion has a low degree of “rule of law”, whereas a society in which government officers have little discretion has a high degree of “rule of law (M. Stephenson, ‘Rule of Law as a Goal of Development Policy’). At this stage I regretted meeting the student!
“Yeah” I said, “A constitution is all about implementing the Rule of Law, preventing abuse of power and making sure that the main functions of the main institutions are safely separated and properly checked and balanced. That is the whole point of having a law and reference to standards higher and nobler than political convenience or personal gains.”
Then I tried to be as concise as possible referring to the 2011 Act: “The conditions for when a snap election can be called were significantly restricted by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act of 2011. Prior to the Act, the Prime Minister had the de facto power to call an election at will by requesting a dissolution of Parliament from the Monarch. Under the provisions of the Act, parliamentary elections must be held every five years, beginning on the first Thursday in May 2015, then, 2020, 2025 and so on. However, Parliament has the power to call for an early general election, on one of two conditions:
- a) Via a motion of no-confidence in the current government. But which prime minister would in their right mind resort to this option, as it would effectively end their career I said to my student; so, forget this one.
- b) Via a vote that carries the agreement of two thirds of MPs. So, this one you are focusing on in the current situation” I said.
Then my trouble continued; the student said:
“Let us now examine the Prime Minister’s claim that calling a snap general election was to do with “strengthening Prime Minister’s hand in Brexit negotiations.” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2017-40210957) .
The Prime Minister also claimed: “Labour, the SNP and the Lib Dems would try to destabilise and frustrate the process in Parliament.” ( So, the whole idea, we were asked to believe was to provide a stronger and more stable government, allegedly in order to implement what the British people clearly wanted and to prevent other political partners from frustrating that noble goal!”
But then my student said: “Are you aware that our Prime Minister said that she did not want to call a snap election before 2020 because she believed the UK needs stability.”?
“Wow” I said; I wasn’t aware; “where did you get that one please?”
Check this the student said: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-37266627/theresa-may-i-won-t-call-a-snap-election.
“All she wanted was to rely on UK constitutional convention for a personal gain”!
“Watch your language” (for a moment I contemplated to suggest to my student – I didn’t of course!).
Then I tried to suggest that the country needed a strong and stable government for Brexit negotiations.
“Brexit”! The student snapped at me.
“What are your concerns about the Brexit”? I asked.
“My main concern is a real prospect of taking away, what in the civilised world are deemed constitutional and fundamental rights by administrative action; Henry WIII Clause; repealing the European Communities Act 1972, which is according to many commentators a proper constitutional act, requiring more that executive action to amend it”.
“Do you know who and why voted for all this”? The student then asked. “Yes” I said; “the British people”. “Have you checked Lord Ashcroft Report”? http://lordashcroftpolls.com/2016/06/how-the-united-kingdom-voted-and-why/ . “Nearly three quarters (73%) of 18-24 year olds voted to remain while more than 60% of 65 year olds voted to leave! “A majority of those working full-time or part-time voted to remain in the EU; most of those not working voted to leave. More than half of those retired on a private pension voted to leave, as did two thirds of those retired on a state pension. A majority (57%) of those with a university degree voted to remain, as did 64% of those with a higher degree and more than four in five (81%) of those still in full time education. Among those whose formal education ended at secondary school or earlier, a large majority voted to leave. Don’t tell me it was what the British people wanted. Why would we pay for their mistake”? My student asked. This outcome may actually harm our negotiations with the EU without “strong and stable government” since a hard Brexit, meaning no free trade deal is going to be more likely as time goes by. What happens if the EU prefers a hard Brexit, but our new Prime Minister doesn’t have sufficient support for that option from Parliament? “. I scratched my head at that stage for a second or third time during the conversation!
“It’s not only Brexit that the British people are concerned about, but the threat of terrorism, austerity, protection of basic human rights and freedoms”. What about Article 2 ECHR and a positive duty to protect the right to life? What about the protection of human rights of minorities based on sexual orientation?” What about the devolution and the government’s ability to remain impartial if it gets support from one side only as the situation seems to be developing? Don’t you think those issues require wider discussion within a more representative setting than a party dominated parliament or by a coalition of dubious legitimacy?” my student started elevating the discussion further!
And then the last straw: “She should have apologised to the country for hurting it by using the constitution for pursuing a personal gain, not to her party only”!
“Have a good summer” I was only able to mutter to my student!