Carl Sacklen

Weak and Unstable Government

Harking back to core conservative values, “strong and stable” has become Theresa May’s catchphrase this general election. When compared to the jumbled leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and his team, Theresa May would almost certainly provide most stability. In the grand scheme of things, though, do the Conservatives truly provide that stability? I don’t think so.

Referendums, especially in areas of major policy, obviously create long periods of uncertainty and instability. The EU referendum was a prime example of this.

The first referendum held in the UK was in 1973 on the membership of Northern Ireland in the UK so I will start my data from Edward Heath’s term as prime minister. In the graph, I organise the leaders based on party, so Blair and Brown are together because they were both from the same party. The same goes for Thatcher and Major, for instance. Here’s the data:

Graph showing referendums per term

It’s pretty clear that the most recent era of Conservative leadership has induced as much chaos from referendums as the notoriously chaotic Wilson and Callaghan governments. Yes, there were other factors involved, such as militant unionisation, that shook the Callaghan and Wilson governments but the facts are still evident: the Conservatives no longer have a commitment to stability and this is evidenced by their new-found love of calling referendums. Here are the four that’ve been held since 2010:

  • 2011: referendum on Welsh devolution
  • 2011: referendum on electoral reform (move from FPTP to AV)
  • 2014: referendum on Scottish independence
  • 2016: referendum on EU membership

Worse still, the referendums held under Conservative governments were all extremely pivotal and could have had a profound impact on the British political landscape. Electoral reform would have changed voting and party politics forever, as well as changed the balance of power in the House of Commons; the independence referendum nearly split the United Kingdom; and the vote for Brexit has left us with an extended period of instability and potential weakness ahead of us.

Each time the Conservatives have called a referendum, they’ve put their own political survival ahead of strong leadership and sound policy. After all, if it all goes wrong, it was “the will of the people”. Every time a referendum was called, they abandoned their own beliefs on which they were elected by the people to carry out a policy agenda. They didn’t want Brexit, they were against Scottish independence, and feared AV. That’s not strong leadership. That’s an abandoning of parliamentary sovereignty in order to save their own skin. That’s weak.

The Conservative lack of a record for strong and stable leadership speaks louder than any of their rhetoric, so think twice next time Theresa May uses her favourite slogan.