Just under a year ago, May found herself as Prime Minister of Britain, and for someone who has latterly proved herself to be something of a narcissist, it will have been one of her biggest
It came about in an odd kind of way: the Tories then leader, and a rich old Etonian called David William Donald Cameron, who in hindsight was rather less politically astute than he was smooth and suave, felt that the only way to deal with the irritation of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) snapping at his heels was to call their bluff.
UKIP had been banging on about Britain leaving the European Union almost since the dawn of time and though still insignificant in electoral terms, the party was gaining supporters for what came to be known as Brexit. Cameron knew that a large number of his own Conservative MPs were also keen on Brexit - indeed two of them did defect to UKIP - so he announced that the matter of wether or not Britain should leave the EU would be put to a referendum.
We know how that one ended, though the smart money was on Britain remaining (and when visiting Germany for my brother-in-law’s 60 birthday party I smugly assured everyone who asked what the outcome would be that Brexit was laughably impossible. Never in a million years, squire. Mark my words. Don’t even think of it, s’not going to happen). Cameron resigned.
There was then an unholy scramble for the leadership of the party, which was pretty much a farce in itself. One would-be candidate, Andrea Jacqueline Lucretia Leadsom, touted her suitability for the post by citing her wide-ranging City of London experience. It turned out that said experience was rather less wide-ranging than touted and had mainly consisted of counting the paperclips at Barclays bank HQ when the office junior was off sick.
Another would-be candidate, Michael Andrew Lucifer Gove, at first announced he wasn’t at all interested in standing and would support another candidate, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson - known in Old Blighty as ‘Boris’ or ‘That Twat’ - only to about-turn and do the dirty on Johnson by declaring his own candidacy. Both got short-shrift from those electing the leader.
That’s when May got her look-in: cannily - or perhaps sneakily - she had kept her head very low during the campaigning for and against Brexit and was not identified with either side. The assumption was that she was a Remainer, but . . .
Then, come Cameron’s resignation and the subsequent farce that was the Tory leadership election, she was appointed, or as she would probably liked to see it, crowned. There was no election as all the other candidates, having sooner rather than later been revealed as nine bob notes of the basest kind, May just breezed in.
At first there was rejoicing: May was somehow seen to be a strong, no-nonsense leader who knew what she was doing: wasn’t it she, who, as Home Secretary, bravely stood in front of row upon row of coppers at a Police Federation conference and told them what a gang of overpaid and underworked sods they were? Indeed it was. Full marks to May the call rang through the land. As the newly appointed leader of the Conservative Party and thus as the new Prime
At the time this was seen as a Machiavellian masterstroke: ‘You, Boris,’ she seemed to be saying as she passed him the poisoned chalice ‘were all in favour of Brexit, so now it is up to you to deliver’. The appointments of two other possible leadership rivals, David Davis and ‘Dr’ Liam Fox, to work with Johnson on Brexit were seen in the same light: if they cocked up, the fault would be theirs and she would be well in the clear.
Well, that was then. May performed reasonably well at the Dispatch Box, making any number of laboured and unfunny jokes as is the way of rather too many politicians and seemed to be establishing herself in the public mind as someone who knew what she was doing. Well, now it seems she didn’t and doesn’t have a clue, and the disaster which Brexit always seemed to threaten the UK with looks as though it will be even worse. Whenever asked what her strategy would be during the Brexit talks, May put on her best Mystic Meg face and would whisper ‘wait and see’. The suspicion is now that she wasn’t keeping her cards close to her chest, but that she didn’t and doesn’t have any cards at all.
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Five weeks ago, after repeatedly assuring to country that she would not call a snap election, she called a snap election. Her thinking was probably that the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was such a useless prat - two-thirds of his own MPs voted against him in a vote of confidence a few months ago - that she would walk it. She already had a slim, but workable House of Commons majority of 17, but as soon as called the election and presented the country with the choice between herself and the ‘unelectable’ Jeremy Corbyn, the word went out that ‘this will be a Tory landslide’. The polls will have encourage her, putting her apparently 20 points ahead of Labour. And then, over the past five weeks, it all began to unravel.
For one thing she decided (and I gather from the election coverage I was watching last night that she surrounds herself with a very small, tight group of advisors) to put herself at the centre of her election campaign: the message on posters and the leaflets of Tory candidates up and down the land was ‘Back Theresa May for strong and stable government’. There was almost no mention of the Tory party, something which did not go down well with many Tory grandees. Then there was the ‘dementia tax’.
To be frank, I am rather unclear on what went wrong here, except that some policy May put forward about how the government would recoup money spent on care in old age went down like a lead balloon, and once it was dubbed by some smartarse newspaper sub-editor as ‘the dementia tax’, it was pretty much curtains for that policy. So after barely a few days it was ditched. Wrong! Ditching a policy so soon is seen as real weakness, and when a would-be leader likes to show themselves off as ‘strong and stable’ but in the event proves to be ‘weak and wobbly’ (as inevitably May was described) you have lost badly.
The matter of the ‘leaders’ debate on TV and radio also helpt to cook May’s goose: both she and the Labour leader Corbyn at first said they would not be taking part. But at the very last moment Corbyn smartly about-turned and declared he would be taking part after all. It was a great move and utterly wrong-footed May. She should have also agreed to change her mind and appear, but she didn’t, and her absence really damaged her. It’s odd how such seemingly small points can do so much harm in politics.
Last night showed just how much harm can be done to a politician in just a matter of weeks. May had a majority in the Commons, now she has none. The ‘unelectable’ Jeremy Corbyn managed to gain quite a few seats and will be a much more confident Opposition leader. The Lib Dems, still banging along the bottom where they always have been these past 70 years except for the recent coalition blip, gained a seat or two.
Remarkably, in Scotland the Tories gained several seats from the Scottish Nationalist Party, but it is generally agreed that that is down to hard and good work from one Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Tories and bugger all to do with May. (The SNP also lost a few seats to Labour, which makes the much heralded second independence referendum look even more like pie in the sky than ever before).
And there you have it: from a position of reasonable strength, May has painted herself into a corner where, to be honest, there is nothing to comfort her. Blame it on narcissism.
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Incidentally, the curious though undoubtedly popular rise of Labour leader The Honourable Jeremy Bernard Rutherford Smyth-Corbyn, to give him his full name, is interesting in itself and might be worth an entry of its own right.
This is a man who could not command the respect and loyalty of his own MPs but who not once but twice was elected leader by a poll of Labour Party members. The second election took place after he lost by two-thirds a vote of confidence by his MPs and put himself up for election again. In one sense, although the description is curiously unfair, Corbyn is a strange fish.
He is pretty universally seen by the unbiased as a ‘decent sort of man’, and there can be fewer doubts about his integrity than about, say, those of Boris Johnson - fiendishly ambitious - and Michael Gove - also fiendishly ambitious, although now something of a non-player. He is apparently a man of courage, viz going for re-election as outlined above when his own MPs had largely turned against him when he need not necessarily have done so.
For many he talks a lot of sense: does Britain really need its own nuclear deterrent, he asks, and many reply ‘well, probably not’ (although that debate is rather more complex than the usual
Yet can he be seen as a future Prime Minister of Britain? Would he really be tough enough when in a no-holds barred fight for survival in the now inevitable EU divorce proceedings? Would he, as the Tories suggest, be eaten alive in trade negotiations with China and the US? Who knows?
But what is indisputable is that he has defied all the naysayers and proved himself to be ever more popular. If I were a Tory leader, I would take careful note of what he is suggesting. I don’t mean a cynical ‘let’s grab his policies ’cos that’s what the punters want to hear’ but ‘this man is getting a response from many non-Labour voters as Labour supporters and perhaps we should find out why’.
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NB Shortly after the election was called and, being 20 points in the lead, May was said to be in line for a ‘Tory landslide’, I thought to myself ‘ho hum, not so fast’. I went to on the Ladbrokes websites (other bookies are available) to check the odds on a hung parliament: 5/1. That’ll do me, I thought, and punted a tenner. I’m no £50 better off. And it’s about to go to my head.