Has a British politician ever been more exposed than Theresa May?
Just over a month ago, speaking on the New Statesman podcast, Jonn Elledge captured the mood of what seemed an impossible minority of us when he was asked, “who’s the worst of the current ‘leadership’ team?”
Just a month ago I was listening to this, nodding to every word, and despairing. Now, well, it turns out the British public just needed the opportunity to figure out Mrs May in that same way that Jonn and I already had. And enough have come to same conclusion.
Her utterly misguided self-belief, her contempt for us, the British people. During the campaign speaking only with vetted Conservative supporters, locking up the local press while she toured, refusing to debate, publishing a manifesto which, despite including only a handful of concrete policies, was still uncosted, and only held up under scrutiny for four days before requiring platitudes, concessions and rethinks. It has been seen-through and rejected. She has been exposed for the delusional wannabe autocrat that she is.
And on the steps of Downing Street, as May declared that she is still our Prime Minister. That what we, her adoring but misguided flock really desire, deep down, is her strong and stable leadership, I began to wonder. Maybe Theresa May really isn’t human after all. It’s all an experiment in artificial intelligence. Robotics far more advanced than we had ever anticipated, fooling everyone, until under the intense pressure of the campaign spotlight the cracks began to show.
The panicked insistence that “nothing has changed” after her social care rowback should have set off alarm bells, and now in her two post-election speeches, there’s been no mention whatsoever of it being a “disappointing night”, or “difficult circumstances”, or “unfortunately…”, or “clearly our position doesn’t have the widespread support we believed and I will be looking to find more consensus going forward”. No. The Maybot, so fond of her endlessly repeated vacuous slogans, knows only (say it robotically) “having secured the largest number of votes and the greatest number of seats in the general election, it is clear that only the Conservative and Unionist Party has the legitimacy and stability to provide that certainty”
Just watch this two minutes thirty-five of pure denial. 100% business as usual. The last four weeks did.not.happen. Surely, surely no human being, made of actual flesh and bone and lived experience, could delude themselves so completely. Ergo, a robot. Kudos to the engineers, but we’d quite like our democracy back now please.
It is now abundantly clear that, as I suspected, there was never any ‘grand strategy’ behind her ‘bargaining’ with the EU, but rather she genuinely believed that as the centre of her own universe, as our messiah, she could have everything she ever desired, if only she had the audacity to believe in it. We can now see why Theresa quickly so rushed to congratulate Trump on his victory, and be at his side, and offer him a state visit. She genuinely believed that in her infinite wisdom and power, with public praise and private reproach, with her healing hands she alone could ‘tame the beast’ and make a grown man of Trump.
What has now emerged about how she conducted government; taking every decision personally, trusting only a very small circle of handpicked advisors, fostering an uncritical atmosphere of fear in which their word – by extension her word – wasn’t questioned, and if it was, having the transgressors bullied into silence, supports all this.
And the most astonishing thing of all; she’s still our Prime Minister.
Now it should be of no surprise that I would have liked to see a Labour minority government supported by the SNP, Lib Dems, and anyone and everyone else willing to work together for the actual good of our country and its people. But as the leader of the largest party, Theresa does have the right to first crack at the whip. Looking forward, however, where do the Conservatives go from here?
Clearly she’ll never fight another election campaign again. But the precarious position her government finds itself in – coalition with the DUP bringing their majority to just two – means I’d be very surprised if this Parliament survives longer than 18 months. But in 18 months time, we’ll be right at the end of Brexit negotiations. That’s not an appropriate time for a general election, and any government weak and incompetent enough to call one then would be punished by the voters.
It has to be earlier – I’d estimate within the year – but is that enough time for the Conservative Party to fully rid themselves of the stench of May?
Her manifesto policies like fox hunting and the dementia tax have prompted talk of a return to the days of the Nasty Party, an impression David Cameron spent ten long years trying to disprove. As Stephen Bush noted in the New Statesman Podcast yesterday, “it’s like the second affair. [First time] you say you’ve changed, they believe you and they come back. Do it again and they’re furious and they aren’t coming back afterwards.”
Of potential successors, Boris Johnson has sufficient public recognition to be installed quite soon before a general election and set a new direction. For any other candidate, conventional wisdom dictates that they’d need 12-24 months to introduce themselves to the electorate, sell their ideas and prove their leadership before they could hope to compete with an opposition candidate now so well known and if not loved, at least widely respected.
Then again, Corbyn in some ways disproves the point. Prior to the election campaign he wasn’t a household name like May, and was generally only known about in the context of completing the sentence “I’d vote for Labour but…” Six weeks on and he’s our sensible, salt of the earth, man of the people leader in waiting.
It’s not over yet
One day soon, May will receive a pat on the shoulder and know she won’t be going to back to Number 10 that evening. Until the time comes, enjoy the drama of the last days of our Prime Minister, Theresa Mary May, “dead woman walking“.