How did Theresa May get this far?
PUBLISHED: 16:24 13 July 2017 | UPDATED: 16:57 13 July 2017
Prime Minister Theresa May has become a much diminished figure on the world stage
Whether you care for Theresa May or not, the sight right now of the PM of Great Britain on the world stage should give none of us pleasure. She has become a diminished figure.
Next to the Queen she represents the nation to the world, and now the world sees a nation trying to find its way. The world stage is peppered with various characters who could take us to the brink of an unimaginable conflagration. The latest description of the Trump administration – “like a Bugs Bunny movie” – should make us stop and pause: because this is an assessment of the President of the United States.
Great Britain – whether this is true or false – has always seemed to be the Sane One, the “reliable boyfriend” who, through dint of sheer Britishness, could get everyone around the table in some sort of air of reasonableness.
Every PM – Conservative or Labour – has traded on this. Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair – the two PMs who history will show made the biggest mark on British history toward the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st – understood this innately. Whether they used this knowledge in the best interest of the nation, the region and the world, history will be, as always, the final judge.
But they knew and understood The Face Of Britain To The World. In other words: its brand. Just as Emmanuel Macron understands the position and history of France within Europe and the world. Whether he is correct, the French people, and the world, too, will decide. He does not have much time.
Adam Boulton asked Matt Kelly, editor of this paper, during an interview on Sky, if The New European was a “comfort blanket”. Matt’s answer implied that perhaps this was true at first, but now this newspaper is much more.
In part, it’s about the Winds Of Change. This understanding of political weather; the gift of anticipation of trends, etc; the ability to “get” their message, is what Theresa May lacks.
It’s fascinating that she has come this far in politics, which in its name implies ‘people’. David Cameron put her in charge of the Home Office, and it was she who allowed the so-called “racist van” to roll through the streets of the nation. It was a dog whistle to various denizens of the right of her party and also to UKIP, which was, in effect, eating the Tories’ lunch. That UKIP did not register on the radar at this past general election shows that voters went home to the Conservatives. And to Labour.
A great politico can sense this kind of thing coming. In hindsight, Jeremy Corbyn’s eternal campaign mirrors Trump’s in that it delivers news to followers, and receives news, on the ground. It bypasses the traditional media by engaging and pinpointing the winds of change; the shift in the public mood. The People are engaged. Their engagement, on all sides of the spectrum, is the factor in determining policy going forward.
Donald Trump knows this. Trump has the feral instincts of the born huckster, he’s like a snake-oil salesman out of the Wild West.
The cult American TV Western from the late ‘50s, Trackdown, has an eerie episode that you can see on YouTube under the title “Trump/Trackdown”. In it, a huckster dressed a bit like a clown, rolls into a Wild West town with the guarantee that he can build a wall against Mexicans and Native Americans. The citizens of the town gather around his covered wagon to listen to his oratory, his promises.
Of course, the people who run the town know that a wall is impossible. Someone asks the name of the huckster and he’s told that his name is: ”Trump”. That the past itself can emerge to give us a warning could be an indication that something is being played over again. Matthew Parris, the Times columnist, believes it is Suez.
Emmanuel Macron, who, in his relatively brief life has made most of his dreams come true, can be seen as a counterpoint to Trump. He rejects the Orange One’s sheer vulgarity. The word “vulgar” implies the ordinary people – i.e. the ones who suffer the most when leaders get it wrong. The wily Macron seems to understand Trump’s need for glitz and pomp and ceremony, and will woo him like a potentate luring the chief dancing girl into his tent.
Neither Thatcher nor Blair were vulgar. On the surface.
But Blair, stumbling out into the light 20 years ago this August to proclaim the newly late Princess Diana the “People’s Princess”, is an indication of this ability to catch a mood-of vulgarity. But Blair spectacularly and fatally misjudged his gift at the dawn of the Iraq War.
Theresa May can’t lose this gift, this facility to catch the mood, sniff the winds. She doesn’t have it to lose. That she doesn’t could be fatal, not just for her but for “The Will Of the People”.
One of her – and the Conservative Party’s – biggest warnings is this: the big money investor’s channel Bloomberg TV is starting to price in Jeremy Corbyn. Where he was once considered a ludicrous relic from the 1970s and early 1980s, he’s now being considered the man to watch. He took Tory votes, after all.
Corbyn was given a very respectful interview after his CBI address. The organisation, by the way, is largely in agreement with him, a shaker that Bloomberg TV duly noted in awe. When asked by the host if there was a chance that Corbyn might become PM, his interviewer replied: “What can I say? The guy has an aura about him. He looks good.”
But there is still the question of Brexit. You would need a Ouija board to explain precisely where his party stands. It is out, but wants tariff-free access to the single market. There are a lot of smart people at the top of Labour. One of them must have asked the question: “Why would the EU agree to that?” In the matter of the ECJ, the headquarters of Big Brother for the likes of many on the Tory Right, Labour has said little publicly. Taking EU citizens out of the jurisdiction of the EU creates another category of EU citizen: those who live in the UK.
Allowing the UK to be out of Freedom of Movement, one of the cornerstones of the EU, would create yet another exception. Why would the EU do that? The UK is a small nation with an open economy. It must trade, and trade with the least amount of distance as possible. Trading with New Zealand and Australia is a beautiful idea. But the expense of transport and refrigeration would be horrific.
It took years for the EU to strike a trade deal with Canada, almost to be scuppered by the Walloon community of Belgium. Big investment banks are weighing up whether they’re moving to Dublin or Paris or Frankfort or all three because London will no longer be the euro clearing centre, a trade worth billions. Along with the bankers go the auxiliary staff and industries and businesses: the office managers, office workers, the taxi drivers, the servers and cooks in the local restaurants, the pubs, the cleaners – The People.
Even the Daily Mail’s editor, Paul Dacre can sense that Brexit may not happen. He has deployed his chief philosopher, Dominic Sandbrook, to lament the lack of patriotism among our elected officials. Dacre wants his readers to harken back to “olden days of yore” when “everyone” was patriotic. But to step out on that ledge of appealing to country and “duty” is to recall the words attributed to Samuel Johnson that “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”. He didn’t mean patriotism itself. But the invocation of it, when you’re in a tight corner, when it’s almost all over.
As Theresa May’s sun slowly sinks in the West, it’s easy to say that Jeremy Corbyn’s is on the rise. But The People did not mean Brexit to leave them poorer. And if you believe in polls, you can see that.
I’m assured by fervent Labour activists that Jeremy is playing “a long game” and that he “wants the Tories to hang themselves”. It’s true that Labour played a blinder at the snap election by taking Brexit off the table, putting social justice on it, and trading, too, on the fact that most people are sick and tired of austerity. Brexit, which could undo the legacy of Attlee and Bevan entirely, cannot be far from the leader’s mind.