Yesterday evening, Conservative MP for Telford, Lucy Allan, attacked those people calling for the resignation of Boris Johnson as undemocratic.
Her reasoning is that the Conservative party’s current large majority gives Johnson a powerful ‘personal mandate’ and it is therefore undemocratic to challenge him until the next general election.
This is such an..idiosyncratic point of view, shall we say … that it requires and deserves a little thought to see what’s going on here.
At the most basic level, it is simply wrong – and plenty of people took to the airways to tell her so. Mike Galsworthy, one of the founders of the Byline Network, called it ‘gibberish’ and it’s hard to disagree with that.
Johnson does not have a personal mandate. Contrary to what he appears to want (and seems to be trying to bring about), our electoral system in the UK is not a presidential one. The mandate is for the party of government, not the Prime Minister personally.
Furthermore, if people now think Johnson should resign, then they have every right to say so. That is true even of – especially of – people who have previously voted for him. To borrow the words of senior Conservative, David Davis, a democracy that cannot change its mind ceases to be a democracy. Free speech has not yet been banned in this country. Indeed, Conservative MPs will tell you they’re all for it. You may have trouble believing them, of course, but that’s your problem, not theirs.
Errors aside, Ms Allan is also open to a charge of hypocrisy. In 2019, she voted against Theresa May in a vote of No Confidence.
Some have argued that May did not have such a large majority as Johnson currently enjoys and therefore lacked the same mandate – we’ve dealt with that idea already. But the contrast between Ms Allan’s statement in 2019 and her attack yesterday feels inconsistent, at the very least.
But I’m not sure inconsistency is the correct charge. There is a certain consistency (if not honour or honesty) in those who say, “I will act as I want to act at any given moment, regardless of anything I’ve done before.”
Most people have a modicum of honesty and decency, a sense of right and wrong and therefore most people try to be consistent. They try to stick to what they believe to be right. As Bloomberg’s Cathy O’Neill explains, someone with no such sense to guide them sees everything only through the lens of market research. Plan A didn’t work? Try Plan B instead, see if that goes down any better with your target audience.
As Groucho Marx probably said, “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them.. well, I have others.”
Ex-US President, Donald Trump is the ultimate exemplar of this but he’s by no means the only one. Today’s Conservative party seems full of people who are similarly unmoored from any solid rock of integrity.
You could say that Allan has every right to change her mind. Yes, she does, of course she does. She would be perfectly entitled to say that she voted against May because she didn’t like May but she’s defending Johnson because she does like him. But that isn’t what she’s doing. She isn’t defending Johnson, she’s trying to silence his critics. She is saying that it is undemocratic to criticise him.
We have always been at war with Eastasia
Finally, Ms Allen’s attack seems intended to blind or befuddle the electorate. Does she think that nobody can remember her previous actions? She should know by now, Twitter never forgets.
Maybe she feels that even if they do remember, they just won’t care. Or perhaps, most frighteningly, she is banking on the possibility that people will be so dizzied by today’s spinning top of truth, post-truth and fake news, that many will abandon attempts at critical thought altogether. They will retire from the playing field and leave Allan and her ilk to sweep through unopposed.
All that, in one little tweet.