Britain, the world is watching. And it is laughing
Mandy Rhodes on the spectacle of a beleaguered Prime Minister running out of ideas
Image credit: David Anderson
The parliamentary petitions website crashed at the end of last week under the sheer weight of people wanting to sign up to revoke Article 50.
A ‘bad gateway’ warning flashed up on the screen in a prophetic moment during yet another febrile week when the Prime Minister had turned democracy on its head and encouraged Britain to turn on its MPs.
The spectacle on Wednesday night of a beleaguered PM, running late and out of ideas, speaking to the nation in some kind of dog-eared presidential address, was painful.
This was May telling the country that she knew how it felt. That she knew we were fed up of politicians prevaricating around Brexit.
And having finally realised that her own deal had hit the buffers, this was her one last stand, an appeal to the voters, as if she had forgotten that her previous forays into being a champion of the people had hardly been filled with success.
She said that she was on our side, while the others in parliament were not. And her answer was to put the blame on them.
Her speech was reckless, hypocritical and above all, dangerous. MPs are not the enemy of the people and May was only stoking up hostility by framing them in that way. And regardless of how ill-considered, to attack the very people you need to support you in Westminster is a very odd kind of diplomacy indeed.
No matter how poor you think May is as a prime minister, she always manages to sink that little bit further. But no amount of dogmatic rhetoric or steely eyed proclamations can disguise the fact that she never says what she means, or means what she says.
Despite being told that she is a woman of honour with an unwavering commitment to public duty, she always manages to find the blame for her failings in others – which is contrary to her having honour.
May is eaten up by the grievance of blame. She blames the electorate for her having to deliver on Brexit. She blamed her two closest advisers when she lost her majority in the snap election – the election she said she would never call. She blamed MPs when her deal twice failed to get through parliament, and she blamed the Speaker for rejecting her attempts to table it yet again.
For his part, he blamed 1604.
And when an 11th hour cross-party meeting of party leaders failed to find any compromise, she blamed the Labour leader for walking out, rather than on her own intransigence and a foolhardy invitation to an MP of no party whose presence at the table was surely designed to be Corbyn’s kick in the teeth.
And when her deal eventually fails to deliver because of the red lines she herself put in place, she will blame her chief negotiator, the civil servant Olly Robbins, who was only following her orders.
For now, she turns full-circle and appeals to the electorate she blamed in the first place for putting her in this farrago, and despicably gambles on their anger to pit them against the MPs who have fuelled her ire.
And for that one act alone, she should not be forgiven. We have already seen an MP stabbed to death in this Brexit process and so to stoke up further anger and division for our political class in a desperate bid to absolve yourself of blame was just a sign of how far Theresa May has travelled in terms of losing authority, never mind self-respect.
On the back of that ill-considered diatribe, the Speaker, John Bercow, was forced to tell MPs that none of them were in fact traitors.
Who does Theresa May think she is now fooling? Surely the electorate has now gone from admiring her resilience, to finding sympathy in her plight, to questioning her sanity and now fearing for its future?
But instead, the Tories rise in the polls. We stand on the edge of history and we look like an Ealing comedy. Britain, the world is watching. And it is laughing at you.
Amid the emotion of last week, one of the hardest things to watch was May’s former friend, political ally and ex-attorney general Dominic Grieve, clearly struggling to keep his emotions in check as he questioned what she had now done in attacking the very MPs whose support she so requires.
It was a pivotal moment in this whole sorry saga, to see a dignified man convulsed by an internal struggle desperately trying to make sense of a friend who could stab him in the back.
May is no virago. She is a charlatan to her cause. Tories are very good at talking up the virtue of personal responsibility until it comes to their own.
She says she stands with the people but where does that put the million and a half and counting who have already signed the petition calling for Article 50 to be revoked and for Brexit to be halted, or the millions that took to the streets to call for a People’s Vote? And where does it place the vast majority of Scots who voted to remain? Does she stand with them?
I was being a little mischievous when I tweeted earlier last week that surely anyone watching the disaster unfold at Westminster could be divested of the notion that Scotland couldn’t make a better fist of leaving the UK.
It is Scottish politicians that threw the country a lifeline when they won the legal fight over whether Article 50 could be reversed. I wonder now if the cry is getting a little bit louder for Scots to at least try and save themselves.
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