By Jack Emsley
For the nine months of Theresa May’s Premiership, her opponents have focused on something of a theme; they’ve called her unelected, said she has no mandate, and argue that she cannot command the confidence of the country as she’s never asked for it. They argue that she cannot bring the United Kingdom out of the single market, let alone negotiate and agree upon a new relationship with Europe, as she doesn’t have the backing of the British people to do so. In short, Theresa May, to them, cannot negotiate on behalf of the British people, as she does not know what they want. A general election, where she can put her vision for Brexit to the British public, then, was an inevitability, not least a political necessity.
But this election, whilst being framed by the various tribes of the referendum as a chance for British voters to say what they really want Brexit to look like, is also something much more. Because, unlike the referendum, voters aren’t just selecting a negotiating position. It would be foolish for the Conservatives, in the same vain as the Liberal Democrats, to argue that this election is solely about a hard versus soft Brexit. Whilst that is undeniably one of the key election issues, it should not be the most pressing.
This election, more than almost any past election, has to be about leadership. The person who walks into 10 Downing Street on the 9th of June won’t just be our Prime Minister; they will be our chief negotiator with Europe. The winner of this election, in addition to having a mandate for their vision of Brexit, will also have to sit face to face with European leaders and get the best deal for Britain, without compromising on the decision taken by the British people last year. In short, this election is a straight choice between two candidates for the position of Britain’s voice in Europe; Theresa May, or Jeremy Corbyn.
And the contrast in leadership ability could not be greater. In the Prime Minister, there is a woman who has a wealth of political experience. A woman who has demonstrated leadership, both of her Party and of the country, at a time of national and internal division immediately after the Brexit referendum. A woman who has not been afraid to stand up to the nationalists in Scotland. Perhaps most impressively, the Prime Minister is a woman who has commanded respect and authority in the traditionally male dominated world of national and international politics. The very fact that Theresa May is the Prime Minister is a testament to how hard she has worked, and continues to work, in order to offer the leadership needed by the people of the United Kingdom during this time of political change.
It seems almost unsporting, therefore, to compare her record with that of the leader of the opposition’s. Jeremy Corbyn is a man who, for the past ten months, has failed to command the confidence of his own Parliamentary Party, let alone the confidence of voters. Labour MP after Labour MP has called on him to leave, citing his lack of leadership, lack of credibility and even lack of commitment to the job. Can a man who regularly takes Monday off really be trusted to negotiate the biggest change in British politics since the Act of Union in 1707? Based on his previous support for Gerry Adams and the campaign for a United Ireland, Jeremy Corbyn is a man unsure of whether the United Kingdom should even exist, let alone what its best interests are.
The difference in suitability for the role of chief British negotiator could not be starker. One could only wince at the thought of Jeremy Corbyn, fresh from the unlikeliest of General Election victories, sitting face to face with Angela Merkel, timidly reading her a list of demands from the British people, crowd-sourced by emails in the style of his earlier PMQs performances. Quite simply, Jeremy Corbyn lacks the forcefulness, the resolve, and the determination that Theresa May has extolled in her leadership thus far.
It is right that the British people have been given this chance to vote now, because the choice facing the electorate on June 8th could not be more important; it is a choice of who we want to speak up for Britain when we come face to face with Angela Merkel and European leaders. It is a choice between being taken seriously on the international stage, and being seen as a laughing stock. It is a choice between strong, proven leadership, and calamitous, directionless timidity. It seems there can only be one choice for those who want Britain to make a success of Brexit, and that has to be the leadership of Theresa May.
Jack Emsley is Political Secretary for Parliament Street