LONDON, 15 July 2016 – Theresa May, aged 59, is Britain’s 54th and second female prime minister. Without a general election, a Tory Party election or even a party room vote by Tory MPs, she has become the country’s leader.
There has rarely been a power grab like it. Without a vote, a new prime minister has been installed by the single authority of the queen on the recommendation of David Cameron, the departing PM who was elected to the job six years ago aged 43.
When Cameron resigned after his referendum humiliation, six Tory MPs nominated to succeed him. But one by one they all fell out of the race. Perhaps they were pushed, or maybe offered Cabinet promotion or life peerages. It’s the British way of exercising power – ruthless intimidation on one hand and the prospect of promotion on the other.
But here’s the rub. Mrs May claims to be a “One Nation” Tory in the mould of 19th century Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli who invented the term to bridge the glaring divisions between toffs and the new industrial working class.
Those class divisions have deepened and hardened under Tory rule and it is pure fantasy to suggest she will reverse them.
The EU conundrum
Prime Minister May also supports remaining in the EU although she claims publicly that her very first task is to carry out the Brexit verdict of the recent referendum. Eh? How does that work?
As home secretary for the past six years she has administered an anti-immigrant policy using refugee arrivals as a “soft target” for her political ambitions.
She has also ruled out an early election to legitimise her government. In other words, she has seized the top job and now proposes to rule by balancing between the nation-splitting Remain and Leave camps.
Although it is a recipe for disaster, Rupert Murdoch’s Sun sees no problems ahead: “Maggie May at No 10 – New PM Theresa May can re-unite Tories & deliver Brexit.”
The first woman in No 10 was Margaret Thatcher (1979-1990). Her era ended in tears when she was dragged kicking and screaming out of Downing Street after her own party, the Tories, dumped her.
Mrs May has pledged that her mission, like the one announced by Thatcher, is to “unite the British people”.
However, Thatcher succeeded in dividing the country, north and south, rich and poor, intelligent and thick.
At first glance, Mrs May promises greater success, but not in the way she imagines: she seems likely to unite the country against her rather than in support of her.
Look at the numbers: Labour and the unions are against her, half the Tories are against her and the EU is against her. For the present, a minority is going along with her while muttering to themselves: “Keep calm and carry on!”
Columnist John Crace noted on her inauguration day: “Beyond the Downing Street gates, a group of protesters chanted, ‘What do we want? Brexit! When do we want it? Now!’ But Theresa ignored them. She knew full well that fudging an exit from the EU was at the top of her in-tray.” (Guardian, July 14).
If right-wing Blairites hadn’t decided to use the release of the Chilcot Report into Blair’s criminal abuse of parliament to join the US-led war on Iraq, Mrs May’s crowd of chancers and spivs (Boris “Bunter” Johnson as Foreign Secretary and Philip Hammond as Chancellor!) would be facing life on the dole instead of incumbency until 2020.
Merry month of May
Theresa May is a classic example of ruthless ambition trumping competence. Where other leaders succeed through innate political brilliance, team-building for nation-building, inclusive popular appeal, inspiring oratory and management/policy flair, Mrs May has based her political career on single-minded hard work.
That’s all well and good, and it may suit the CEO of sanitation, parks and gardens on a regional county council. But can anyone effectively run a nation the size of Britain, through the economic and political perils of the next four years, simply based on the punishing solitude of marathon hours of work?
It’s no wonder she was, regrettably, diagnosed with diabetes mellitus Type 1 four years ago and has to be treated with daily injections of insulin. At No 10 the dosage will need to be increased.
She is the daughter of an Oxfordshire Anglican vicar which explains her parsimonious nature and frenzied work ethic. She is a former banker who gave up her Bank of England career to follow in the footsteps of her heroine, Mrs Thatcher.
Even as a teenager, she spoke with alarming confidence about seeking the prime ministership. “She wanted to be the first woman prime minister back in our Oxford days and she was very irritated when Maggie Thatcher beat her to it,” said one of her oldest university friends, Pat Frankland.
She tried unsuccessfully to enter the House of Commons in 1992 (Durham, NE England) and 1994 (Barking, East London) before Tory Central Office gave her a golden parachute into the safe seat of Maidenhead in Berkshire in 1997.
Remain or Leave?
In every statement since she became front-runner to replace David Cameron, Mrs May has stressed her primary aim is to implement Brexit, the referendum decision to remove Britain from the European Union.
But Mrs May backed her former boss, David Cameron, and the Remain camp in the referendum.
Consider the following:
– Home Secretary Theresa May backed the Remain campaign but only half-heartedly. Result? Promoted to prime minister.
– Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn backed the Remain campaign but only half-heartedly. Result? Faces sack as Opposition leader.
In fact, Corbyn performed better than the Tory leadership in the referendum. He delivered 60% of Labour voters to the Remain camp while it was the right-wing Tories and Nigel Farage’s UKIP that gave victory to Brexit.
The Tories, the City of London and the CBI chose Mrs May to become PM to keep the UK in the EU. Simultaneously she has to appease 17,400,000 Brexiteers who voted to “reclaim Britain” from Brussels.
It was the biggest protest vote against London politicians and Eurocrats in post-war history.
She and her bumbling Cabinet have the task of 1) taking the UK out of the EU, 2) striking a new deal with European heads of state and 3) appeasing the hotheaded Brexit crowd and making them go away.
I can’t see it, can you?
May, the dog-whistler
The vicar’s daughter helped to carry the Tories to their general election victory in 2015 by elevating border protection to national security significance, demonising refugees and spreading alarm about new arrivals from the EU.
And in the June 23 referendum the majority vote for Brexit was undoubtedly inflamed by anti-immigrant sentiment.
England’s xenophobia (a polite word for racism) is now widely denied. As one Brexit vote said so eloquently: “I didn’t vote against the EU because I don’t like darkies.” No, of course not.
Europe’s fevered racists welcomed the Brexit vote: Ms Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front, gushed that Britain leaving the EU was the beginning of a “people’s spring”.
Under Prime Minister May the founding EU right of free movement of workers from Britain to Europe and from Europe to Britain will be abrogated. In future, all foreign workers, visitors and students will be subject to British immigration control. Families will no longer have the right of reunification and the new appeals regime will be based on Australia’s i.e. tightly restricted, prohibitively expensive and racially discriminatory.
Workers’ rights enshrined in EU laws will be dismissed, current British trade union rights will be picked off and even lower pay imposed.
Brexit will break May
Mrs May’s rule has started in chaos and it will probably finish in even bigger chaos. Her offshore island is taking water and money is fleeing abroad at the rate of billions – with little coming in.
Britain’s credit rating has been cut from Triple A to AA and the UK has slipped behind France to become the sixth largest economy in the world. (A century ago it was No 1.)
The Frankfurt and Paris stock markets are waiting to welcome trading previously conducted in London and major companies are redirecting the headquarters and investment plans out of Britain and into the much larger European market.
The iron laws of history are catching up with Britain’s triumphalist mythology about the nation and its people. Tory politicians can no longer rely on their mouldy slogan, “We’re all in this together”, when clearly some are in it (the shit) while others (the 1%) aren’t.
For some, the reckoning can’t come quickly enough while others are more content to live in the past.
Mrs May is trying to do both.
Quotes of the Week
She (Theresa May) immediately vowed to unite Britain – my guess is against the poor.
– Frankie Boyle, Scottish comedian
I do not want to be left on a small island with the Tories.
– viral Facebook meme
Great Bores 5
That Maurice Newman is a very smart bloke. I read his columns in The Australian and he always makes sense to me. He used to be the boss of the stock exchange and then he was chairman of the ABC so he is well connected and very well informed. He thinks all this climate change stuff is rubbish and so do I. Those bloody Greens are all fuckin’ mad. That said, I’m thinking of installing roof panels to get solar energy. It’s the only way to go. Newman doesn’t agree because he is a climate denialist; he probably owns coal shares. By the way, have you seen his head? He’s got the king of comb-overs. He’s a denialist about everything. A complete tosser, if you ask me.