The Trident fiasco confirms that Theresa May has a real problem with transparency

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.

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.

See: The PM has thrown Britain’s jigsaw pieces in the air

See: Needed: A coherent British foreign policy

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2 Responses to “The Trident fiasco confirms that Theresa May has a real problem with transparency”

  1. ted francis

    You can hear her desperately rehearsing how she was going to deflect answering the question before the show. She struck (or was fed) the line about “….what we were debating in the house…..”. And so it became her mantra. The woman is a shallow, arrogant, mendacious, not very intelligent politician – beginning, middle, end. She doesn’t have a mandate from the voters of this country and should not have been put into a position of power.

  2. Tony

    Yesterday’s Commons debate on this was truly appalling with really terrible contributions from Conservative MPs and from Labour’s nuclear mafia whose only concern was that the episode would undermine public support for the nuclear weapons that they hold in such affection.

    The fact is that we do not, and never have, needed nuclear weapons. They have got nothing whatsoever to do with ‘defending the people of this country’. We have them for reasons of ‘great power’ status. Sadly, Theresa MP and many Labour MPs are quite happy to put our lives at risk in this way.

    Denis Healey, former Defence Secretary:

    “I was very doubtful about the need for Britain to have nuclear weapons but I didn’t express it in public. The main reason we had them was not to deter a Soviet attack but to reassure the Americans”. (My emphasis)

    14/03/2011: “Document” Radio 4.

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