Theresa May, Harold Macmillan and DIY

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 19 June 2017 in Comment

A blow to the head during an attempt at DIY teaches Liam Kirkaldy a lesson about politics

Paintbrush - credit: Alan Cleaver

I did some DIY this weekend and, broadly speaking, the work was a tremendous success. The job – painting my living room – wasn’t strictly necessary, but I felt that taking a gamble and sprucing the place up would strengthen my hand in any future negotiations over my flat.

The work wasn’t perfect, I will be the first to admit that. Some white paint did go off target, and I did get it all over my legs. Finally, due to unforeseen circumstances, I accidentally cracked my head off the window pane while standing up too quickly, leading to a large lump and a steady stream of blood to come out of my skull. It was really painful.

But after a frantic campaign, at least it was good to get away from politics. Following a relentless run of set-piece speeches, TV debates and campaign events, a quiet weekend was called for, and apart from the blow to the head, things were going well. On Sunday I played football then went to the supermarket. Standing in the shop, I realised the cut on my head had re-opened during the game. I realised this because people were staring at me.


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It was then, standing in the 24hr Asda, sweating heavily, my legs and arms covered in white paint, with a thick stream of blood coming down the side of my face, and with a basket containing nothing but discount garlic bread and rosé wine, that I realised I had achieved a unique insight into Theresa May’s current predicament.

We’ve all had circumstances work against us, and, as Harold Macmillan was supposed to have said when asked what politicians most feared: “Events, dear boy, events”. Who knows how good Macmillan was at DIY – he would probably never have bungled a simple painting job – but when he talked about ‘events’, he certainly wasn’t alluding to the sort of predicament that the Tories have got themselves into.

Macmillan, like May, took over as PM without winning a general election. David Cameron resigned after Brexit, while Macmillan’s predecessor, Anthony Eden, quit due to ill-health following the UK’s botched handling of the Suez crisis.

But, unlike May, Macmillan won an increased majority in the next election – taking the Tory majority from 67 to 107 seats in 1959. It’s hard to imagine him offering May any more sympathy than her current colleagues.

After all, events may be a politician’s most slippery opponent, but Macmillan was referring to outside ones. Unpredictable ones. You aren’t meant to cause the events in the first place.

Yet that is exactly where Theresa May finds herself. No one compelled her to hold a snap election in such a transparent attempt to gain party political advantage, and no one compelled her to run such a disastrous campaign. It’s hard to imagine her lasting as PM for long.

Back in Asda, aware that I was attracting attention, I realised it was important to send a strong and stable message. If anyone asked, I would be very clear in explaining that my state of semi-concussion was part of the plan. Nothing had changed. It would be easier to achieve my shopping if everyone came together in support, and, anyway, the important thing was that I achieved the best possible outcome from the transaction. Bad shopping would be worse than no shopping, I thought to myself.

But at least it was nice to get a break from politics, even if, when I came back to the flat, I found it was in the same mess I had left it. Apparently Macmillan used to have a quote in his office, reading: “Quiet, calm deliberation disentangles every knot”.

Cleaning up the mess from my DIY, I tried to keep it in mind. May should perhaps do the same – after all, a bad leader is arguably worse than no leader.

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