Who could actually do better than Theresa May?

Written by Cameron Wyllie on 1 May 2019 in Comment

Cameron Wyllie on the predicament facing Theresa May

Image credit: David Anderson

So just for clarity – I have only voted Tory once. I grew up in a household where my parents voted SNP when the SNP only got two per cent of the national vote; I remember my dad being really, really pleased when the SNP held its deposit in a by-election sometime in the early 60’s; I remember going round doors with him in the Edinburgh North by-election (1973) and a man saying to him ‘people like you should be hanged’ – moderation always being a hallmark of Scottish politics; and I remember seeing my mother sitting on our lawn drunk when I was ten and Winnie Ewing won the Hamilton by-election.

When my father died, John Swinney spoke at his funeral and said ‘George fought for the SNP in the battleground of West Lothian’ and the Tories, to be frank, did not figure in those battles.

For the years of my childhood and adolescence it was a straight fight between Labour and the SNP, a fight which the veteran Labour member Tam Dalyell always won. Standing canvassing at the polling place in Kirkliston in the Oct 1974 election, my dad said ‘Vote SNP and the sun will come out’ (this was apparently party policy) to a woman who responded ‘Oh Mr Wyllie [he knew everybody] I would but I’ve always voted Conservative because my father voted Conservative.’ My father, the kindest of gentlemen, looked at her like she had said she was going to vote for Pol Pot. Voting Conservative was quite exotic down our way.

But I did vote Tory in the last Holyrood election, on the list, to ensure Ruth Davidson got elected, because I know her from her old debating days, and I really, really like her. Still, had I known she would romp home in Edinburgh Central anyway I would have, well, voted SNP on the list again.

This is a long-winded way of saying I hold no brief, and no particular affection for Mrs May. But, like many people, I suspect, I feel really sorry for her.

I have taught Theresa May – I don’t mean literally, but I have taught Theresas. They are serious girls who don’t like being young, and who find other teenagers irritating if not positively repellent – if the latter, they would be too polite to say so. They do well in their studies, but they are not creative. They are quite shy in class but can come round to taking part once they realise that you understand – and respect – them.

They are prefects, but not school captains, or for that matter, duxes. They are dogged, loyal, not easily moved and they never ever do anything wrong. They are, in truth, a little boring, but they have integrity to their toenails. They are like saints – this is not meant as much of a compliment – in that they are wholly devoted to a cause, narrow-minded and willing to take a bullet, or an arrow, or a public flaying because they think something is right. They are not much fun.

And Mrs May is getting persecuted right, left and centre. This all must eventually hurt, not because she is a woman but because it is, in a large part unfair. She was a tolerable and very long-serving Home Secretary, and then, by a sort of accident of history, she became Prime Minister and had the Gordian Knot thrust upon her.

Consider this – she almost certainly did not approve of this silly referendum, created by her predecessor to pacify some of his own party and to quell the ephemeral growth of UKIP; in the referendum itself, being a serious and very informed person, she voted to remain.

Of course, 98 per cent of those who actually voted were probably not in a position to truly know what was going on, but Theresa was, because, as with all things, she took that vote seriously. Then the vote, by some combination of complacency and lies, went wrong, and despite the figures really lacking decisiveness, she took it upon herself and her government to try and find a way out of the EU that wasn’t completely disastrous.

Now, I don’t know about ‘her plan’ – I don’t know if it’s really hers at all, and I don’t pretend to be able to consider its consequences if it ever happens. But I do think that she will think that, if this is really what ‘the voice of the people’ wants, then she should ‘jolly well’ try to do her best.

In this impossible position, who could actually do better? The Lib Dems seem entirely broken, having not ever recovered from having a homophobe as their leader (ha!) and the Labour party is led by someone who is, of course, not even remotely a Theresa: a lazy, difficult, in truth not very clever man, who is much more popular than she, and who neatly equivocates about his ‘leave’ credentials to the extent that no one really knows what the Opposition stands for on this astonishingly important issue.

And then there are all the shits who are supposed to be in the same camp as her. I haven’t actually taught any Borises, but I’ve met them – amusing, charming – captains of debating teams in public schools, because they can argue anything you want if the prize is big enough. And I haven’t taught many Jacobs, just one or two – very, very clever boys who are eventually beaten up by young men whom, as they are suspended, you previously thought to be really good lads and whom, it transpires, didn’t slap Jacob because he was clever or posh or religious, but because he has a really nasty mouth on him and eventually just said the wrong smart quip. And got slapped.

So – and I speak metaphorically – let us pray for Saint Theresa, wronged and martyred for sticking up for a position she was obliged to believe in. When – and it will be soon – she is sent to obscurity, to be dealt with, I expect, pretty viciously at her going, and replaced by someone less honest but shinier – I wish her happiness, and the capacity to forget, as old age and the village fete on a sunny day, beckon.

Cameron Wyllie is former Head of George Heriot's school in Edinburgh

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