The PM's caginess is becoming a serious liability
It’s only Monday afternoon, but we can already state with confidence that this will be a humiliating week for the prime minister.
Today, it has been confirmed that she knew about the failure of a Trident missile in June, but chose not to disclose that information to MPs when they debated renewing Trident in July.
Tomorrow, it’s widely predicted that the government will lose its Supreme Court appeal on whether MPs deserve a vote on triggering Article 50, putting May’s April deadline under severe strain.
The common thread between these two cases is that Theresa May made a difficult situation vastly worse through ill-advised caginess. On Brexit, she insisted that the government should be solely responsible for triggering Article 50 and initially refused even to share her negotiating priorities, until Labour — along with a handful of Tory rebels — pressured her into retreat.
Had she embraced an open, consultative process from the outset, she could have avoided the embarrassment of a double defeat in court, and had more time to go through the required parliamentary procedures.
On Trident, the initial failure to disclose critical information to MPs was always going to be a major story, but May only made it worse with her agonising interview on yesterday’s Marr show. By refusing to answer four successive and straightforward questions on what she knew and when, May essentially doubled her losses, replicating the initial failure of transparency.
— The Andrew Marr Show (@MarrShow) January 22, 2017
When considered in this light, May’s aversion to open, transparent governance is baffling. Not only does it show contempt for various democratic processes, it also clearly makes her life a lot more difficult, forcing her into humiliating obfuscations, backtracks and u-turns.
There is likely an ideological factor at play here. May embodies a sort of benevolently paternalistic conservatism: she believes her values are the right ones for the country and sees consultation with the people — or MPs or devolved administrations or even her own cabinet — as a needless complication.
When will she realise that the alternative — trying and failing to govern behind closed doors — is even more complicated?
Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.
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