"It becomes more tempting to challenge your leader if you are in good company"by Meg Russell / May 12, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
Meg Russell will speak at Prospect’s upcoming 2017 election debate on Tuesday, 6th June.
Many assume that a sharp increase in the number of Conservative MPs on 8th June will give the Prime Minister far greater power to govern unimpeded. Indeed, the hope of an enhanced personal mandate is what inspired Theresa May’s snap election. The traditional expectation in Britain is, after all, that a government with a comfortable Commons majority can push through more or less whatever policy it pleases. As she made her surprise statement, May stressed the need to unite Westminster behind her. So will this strategy work? Not necessarily.
The old textbook description of power in British politics was always questionable, and is now positively outdated. With a parliamentary system and no written constitution, we may lack “checks and balances” in the strict American sense; but there are many constraints on a PM, and they are increasing. The governing party is one. A small Commons majority leaves ministers vulnerable to rebellion from a handful of, perhaps extreme, backbench MPs. But a small majority also concentrates the minds of loyalists, making it difficult to step out of line. It was during Tony Blair’s landslide years that rebellion on the Labour side took off. In a pattern familiar from psychology, larger groups will always tend to splinter into smaller subgroups. Within parliament, it becomes more tempting to challenge your leader if you are in good company, and rebellion will not do too much immediate harm.