Theresa May seeks a green light for a reckless Brexit and a hard-right Britain
When a politician has to deny that they live in a different galaxy their campaign has clearly taken off. But just maybe in the wrong direction.
Having positioned herself as the normal one in an extraordinary election, Theresa May has gone, within a matter of days, from being the strong and stable leader she likes to portray to the woman from Mars.
And if anyone needs a further hint of the intended direction of her intergalactic travel then just refer back to the puffed-up speech that followed on from her audience with the Queen and you’ll see that it’s all about going backwards.
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In a jaw-dropping diatribe from outside No 10, following claims in the foreign press that the EU lead negotiator on Brexit had said she was deluded about how tough the negotiations might be, the Prime Minister criticised the European media for misrepresenting Britain and claimed “threats by European politicians and officials” had been “deliberately timed to affect the UK election result”.
Her ill-tempered broadside was, for anyone other than a paranoid xenophobe, chilling. And for those that want to understand the crowd she was playing to, they only need look at the UKIP integration agenda and remember that for some, their job is done.
Here is the leader of the Conservative Party who until a matter of months ago was, we are told, an ardent anti-Brexiteer, an enthusiastic Europhile, an outward-looking cosmopolite, a citizen of the world. And yet, she has managed to steal her love for all things foreign and slip as easily into the persona of a Little Britain isolationist who is screaming at Johnny Foreigner to get his tanks off her lawn, as she would into a pair of her own leopard print kitten heels.
And remember this, it is still just the phony war – the entrée (if you’ll pardon my French) of an election which will supposedly give her the strengthened hand that will take her into the real battle for Brexit. But if this is just the rehearsal then it is an alarming glimpse of how badly she might fare.
May has enthusiastically adopted the intended insult of being ‘that difficult woman’ in the same vein as Thatcher wore the mantle of the Iron Lady with pride but if she doesn’t match a supposed strength with an empathy and some hint of humanity then she is more in danger of living up to those that claim she is a robot.
She speaks in meaningless soundbites. Police contacts remind me that when she was Home Secretary for six years, she basically had one mantra to them which was, ‘your only job is to fight crime’.
She has refused to take part in the live TV debates, she hides from real people, keeps journalists at arm’s length – sometimes behind locked doors – and her attempts at photo opportunities whether on the streets of the North East where no one is willing to answer her knock on the door, in a hut in a wood booked for a children’s party or on a factory floor where men wearing ear plugs nod along to her every word, they frequently end in derision.
But she is 20 points ahead in the polls. So, what does it matter?
Well, there remains the rather obvious and as yet unanswered question of why does having a larger majority in the House of Commons strengthen Theresa May’s hand in a negotiation with 27 other countries who might have their own interests in mind? And that’s because it doesn’t and that’s not what she wants it for.
One answer was offered by the Chancellor she chose to sack and who, as the newly anointed editor of the Evening Standard, is taking his revenge. On his first day in the job last week, the Standard’s leader column read: “There’s nothing wrong with repeating election campaign slogans; the problem comes when the election campaign amounts to no more than a slogan.
“If you ask for a blank cheque, don’t be surprised if later it bounces.”
And make no mistake, May will take an election victory as a green light to continue towards a reckless Tory Brexit and a hard-right Britain. Lest you forget, the Tories have been in power for seven years already; firstly, in a coalition tempered by the Lib Dems and secondly, with a small minority which kept them in check, but they still led us into Brexit and managed to introduce some truly draconian policies, particularly around welfare. The rape clause, removal of mobility scooters, cuts to bereavement payments, the list goes on.
Cuts introduced this month will take a further £12bn out of spending on the country’s most impoverished people by 2020 and that’s before Brexit bites.
Theresa May has shown she doesn’t welcome opposition. This election, far from being the one she describes as the most important in her lifetime, feels like one called on a falsehood.
Lots of people have spent the last week reflecting on the election of 1997 – the dawn of a new era. I moved to London the month after Blair’s win and gave birth to my son a few weeks later. His birthday is a reminder of that heady time.
And with devolution, it truly was the rebirth of a nation. And when I read the poignant note written by the former head of Better Together and now Labour candidate in the forthcoming election, Blair McDougall, of his memories of ’97, I reflected on how different this election feels.
McDougall described it like being part of a revolution then and I concur. But 20 years on, with talk of Labour voters lending their votes to the Tories for the sake of the Union, I fear McDougall’s note could become one of remembrance.