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Hardcore masculinity: a template for power which does not allow nuance

22ND NOVEMBER : On this day in 1990 Margaret Thatcher handed in her Resignation. Margaret Thatcher announces resignation: Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher leaves Downing Street for an audience with the Queen. - Credit: PA Photos /

Those of us who support Remain or Soft Brexit are stored away in the ‘women’ category.




Early in the morning a few days ago, a thread came through on Twitter.

There are times when you have to be cautious and read things very carefully there, almost defensively because your first reaction is to retweet. I’ve learned that the best thing to do is read; take a breath and wait. Just wait. With the waiting comes the veracity, the truth.

Jeremy Cliffe, Berlin bureau chief at The Economist was tweeting, in over twenty or so tweets, the translated account of the dinner at Downing Street between Theresea May and Jean-Claude Juncker.

What flashed through my mind was that convivial picture of the PM and Juncker, president of the European Commission, standing together on the steps of Number 10 about to go into that very ordinary hallway of the residence at the centre of British politics. And Number 10 is a house. You can look out from a back window at Horse Guards and a little beyond that to St James’s Park.

There’s something English and cosy about it. You could fall asleep there in the middle of the afternoon, stretched across a couch, half listening to the sound of Big Ben close by. It feels like a home. Not the colonial American splendour of the White House nor the haute grandeur of the Élysée or anywhere else in the so-called West where the elected official responsible for the government resides. You could imagine it.

So Juncker was there and it was a big deal and his people were there, those multilingual, awesomely-educated fonctionnaires who go to work for the EU and stay a long time.

The report was an account of the dinner newly published in The FAZ, the popular name of Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a paper roughly equivalent to the Telegraph.

It was one of those accounts that, as a dramatist, you instinctively feel has the ring of truth. Playwrights write human beings, we’re scientists of human nature and what was unfolding in over twenty tweets was true. You could tell it was true because it had the stench of humanity about it, the odour of mishap and misstep and miscalculation.

27)…major communications/briefing problems. Important messages from Berlin & Brussels seem not to be getting through.

28)….May seems to be labouring under some really rather fundamental misconceptions about Brexit & the EU27.

17)…May then insisted to Juncker et al that UK owes EU no money because there is nothing to that effect in the treaties…

19) Davis then objected that EU could not force a post-Brexit, post-ECJ UK to pay the bill. OK, said Juncker, then no trade deal

20) …leaving EU27 with UK’s unpaid bills will involve national parliaments in process (a point that Berlin had made *repeatedly* before).

21) ‘I leave Downing St ten times as sceptical as I was before’ Juncker told May as he left

22) Next morning at c7am Juncker called Merkel on her mobile, said May living in another galaxy & totally deluding herself

23) Merkel quickly reworked her speech to Bundestag to include her now-famous ‘some in Britain still have illusions’ comment

There was something about the use of the word ‘deluded’ that made me stop.

Maybe it was an accurate description of the state of things, maybe that word nailed everything exactly. Nevertheless I realised that I didn’t want it used to describe her. ‘Ruthless’; ‘Machiavellian’, those were fine. But ‘deluded’, in the context of a female Prime Minister of the UK, has a kind of crazed, bonkers quality about it.

I can remember the day that Margaret Thatcher resigned. I was having a milky tea and a squashed sandwich in the Teachers’ Room of a North London school. When the news came through, the room broke into screams of joy.

The students were out in the playground and must have wondered what was going on. What was going on was a celebration centred around the departure of ‘that bloody woman’ and worse.

I hold no brief for Mrs Thatcher, but what I remember about her going was the tears she held back. She’d caused many herself, but there was something particularly vicious about the cheers even from her own side. A deeper delight that she’d met her end, had tasted ignominy.

The other day, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, defeated Presidential candidate, gave her fist big interview after her defeat. She was steely, determined, all of the things you either like or loathe about her.

A radio presenter told me that a few years ago, right after her resignation as the US chief ambassador, she’d come to Britain to flog a book. He caught a glimpse of her sitting in the waiting area, contained within herself. Completely alone.

In her recent interview, she talked about misogyny. Many groaned, especially younger women journalists, newsreaders and political commentators, dressed in their look-alike, sleeveless, pastel coloured lolly-pop dresses and long flowing hair. All of the women complaining about her were formidable in their own right: lawyers, journalists and so on.

But there was something ferociously ‘girlie’ about them, demanded of them, so that they could be on air. You can go to the makeup room of any broadcaster, and the time that a woman spends in the chair in order to go on air for three minutes to discuss Erdogan or the latest economic speculation is ludicrous.

Men get a dash of powder and dark spray for any bald patch and out they go.

If you speak up, you become bothersome, contrary, loud, and surplus to requirements. Women broadcasters and commentators are circulated faster than their male counterparts.

A man can get old on air.

A woman – not so much.

But this reality, this assumption of the sheer pointlessness of anything other than a kind of hardcore masculinity goes further than women themselves. Much deeper.

Ethnic minority people who step into the public eye, who want to be a part of commenting about their country, are given very little air time, or used to talk about their ‘communities’.

In that, they become ‘women’, too. ‘Extras’ on the national stage, having to try harder, be harder; tiptoe through the national consciousness. The disabled, too, are relegated to special topics, their particular areas of ‘expertise’.

A landscape so relentlessly male in politics and commentary relegates men’s issues, too. There is a suicide emergency among young white males; working class white lads are being radicalised by the far right, both on the street and online. And loneliness is the biggest cause of complaint for men over 35.

Because if there’s a template for power, then it cannot include vulnerability; nuance; dissent.

So the nation could calcify; grow brittle and rigid. Break.

Those of us who support Remain or Soft Brexit are stored away in the ‘women’ category.

We, too, are considered deluded, frenzied, out of control, mad. There is no place in the hard, male world of ‘strong and stable’ for dissent; refusal. No place for thinking again. Asking the People again.

In this mano-a-mano Tory Proxy War called Brexit we all become the ‘women’, the deluded.

A very prominent theatre director, a man renowned not only for his genius, but for his sensitivity and pinpoint accuracy about humans and what makes us tick, said to me recently: ‘What Theresa May is trying to do is make this country into her own image.’

She wouldn’t be the first national leader to try that. And she won’t be the last.

But those of us who are the opponents of Brexit, who want to remain a part of Europe, must pay attention to the language used about us. While we press our cause, pursue our good fight, we have to be aware of how we and our work are being talked about, measured and judged.

The debacle of that evening at Number 10 and its aftermath are being loudly debunked by Leavers, most of the mainstream press and the Tory party. It doesn’t fit the image. It’s not ‘strong and stable’.

Be aware of how Remain is described, how we are described. Listen to the dogwhistles that scream: feminine. Woman. Weak and shaky.

I think that it’s safe to say that this PM is aware.

Maybe Hard Brexit is not only about the EU. But political survival.

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