Nothing has exposed May more starkly than her response to Grenfell
PUBLISHED: 16:54 26 June 2017 | UPDATED: 16:54 26 June 2017
PA Wire/PA Images
After the tower block disaster the mask has once again fallen for embattled Prime Minister
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It has come to the point where it’s hard not to feel sorry for the dead woman walking of Downing Street whose hubris has plunged the state into a state of disunited nothingness. She’s hopelessly out of her depth and watching her drown is beginning to feel like cruelty.
Although the rudderless Tories cannot bring themselves to say it, Theresa May simply isn’t fit for purpose. In the face of escalating chaos, the powerless Prime Minister mumbles platitudes about “getting on with the job” as if what the nation really wants is vague bureaucratic competence. Just another example of her unacceptable incompetence in the field of communication.
All of her self-inflicted problems stem from her extraordinary inability to know how to behave in the spotlight. Like a rabbit caught in the headlights, she turns frozen in fear to her advisors and follows their dubious advice. After pathetically hiding from the television cameras on her preposterous people-dodging visit to Grenfell Tower, she appalled millions of exasperated viewers with her calamitous question-dodging on Newsnight. Her pathological evasiveness was excruciating.
Echoes of her characteristically uninspiring reaction to the recent terrorist attacks, after which the best she could manage was to join the ritualistic choruses of condemnation that now unfold in a rigid, all-too-familiar format. Outrage over the shocking incident, sympathy for the victims (“My thoughts are with…”), praise for the emergency services, something about the remarkable resilience of the city and the latest reminder that “they” will never win. Yeah, yeah, you said that the last time. And the time before that.
Britain’s current multifaceted omni-crisis is in no small part down to the fact that our woefully weak and wobbly leader is incapable of anything more than the meaningless group-speak you get from journeyman politicians. The PM should be better than the average backbencher at handling the aftermath of tragedy. The PM should also be better at handling the rigours of a general election. But if anything, she’s worse at both. And that’s not good enough. Hence her downfall.
Even as the dust settled in the wake of Westminster Bridge, Manchester and Borough Market, it was inevitable that Mother Theresa’s transparent shortcomings would one day land her in terminal trouble. And that day was the day after the Grenfell inferno. After the worst fire in modern history and worrying questions that cut right to heart of the UK’s social fabric, May’s terrible decision to avoid the devastated local community proved disastrous. She will not be forgiven.
Cometh the hour, cometh the strong and stable leader. When Theresa’s big moment arrived, she apparently welled up with tears and then sacrificed herself to her remaining advisors to discuss how to project the right image as the grave situation progressed. For hours. Why? It should have been glaringly obvious… get in the car, get down there and don’t just talk to the fire chiefs.
Since she was clearly moved on a personal level by the North Kensington catastrophe, why didn’t she trust her emotions and meet the traumatised survivors? She didn’t have to weep on screen, that’s not her style. Fine. But what’s wrong with showing a spot of basic humanity? Not doing so was one of the defining mistakes of her career, up there with calling the snap election.
In the country’s hour of need the Prime Minister has to step up to the plate. She didn’t. Instead, she fretted about how her visit would look. Would it be seen as a crass PR stunt? Would the angry residents heckle her and would that play badly on telly? How would she cope without a crowd of sycophantic placard-waving supporters surrounding her? What she failed to realise was that this was not a time for deliberation, it was a time for instinct and decisiveness. Qualities, it transpires, she lacks.
Throughout her comically inept election campaign, the ludicrously robotic May(bot) obeyed the architects of her demise, those brilliant advisors who thought the voters were so stupid they could be fobbed off with five mindless soundbites. We know the ending. As the contemptuous public roundly rejected her patronising approach, she was humiliated… and her control-freak sidekicks Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy were forced to resign. Enter new advisors who, amid the blazing horror of Grenfell, advised caution. Wrong again.
Does she ever have an independent thought and act on it? Does she ever have the courage of her convictions? Is she really so indecisive that when Grenfell erupted all she could do was dither? If the answer to these questions is yes, she is not qualified to reside at Number 10. Calamity May is an increasing liability and the Conservatives must ditch her sooner rather than later. If only for their own sakes. Every second she’s in charge, their popularity plummets. How Tory high command must have squirmed when a confident, calm and resolute Jeremy Corbyn was filmed comforting the shattered locals, effortlessly becoming the politician who looked like he genuinely cared. No wonder Labour is surging ahead in the opinion polls.
Nobody wants a show-pony in Downing Street. We don’t need a performing seal who puts more store by PR than running the country. But in the 21st century, the Prime Minister should be an accomplished communicator. May isn’t just unaccomplished… she’s utterly useless. Every cliché-packed television interview she gave during the election campaign cost her votes. Her car crash post-Grenfell interview revealed she has learned nothing.
Perhaps her diminished team could explain to her that when asked a question on television, the idea is not to completely ignore it and recite an irrelevant press release. The idea is to at least try to answer it. If you don’t, you look ridiculous. Newnight’s Emily Maitlis: “Do you accept that you misread the public mood on this one? They shouted coward at you.” Maybot: “What I have done since this incident took place…” Maitlis: “You didn’t go and meet residents and they resented that.” Maybot: “This was a terrible tragedy…” Maitlis: “Do we need to start putting health and safety first?” Maybot: “What we need to do is to ensure that immediately people have the support they need…” This relentless non-answering went on for eight torturous minutes.
Of course, she is now trapped in a vicious circle. The more she misfires on the media circuit, the more she is scared of her own shadow, the more she is terrified of straight-talking. We can’t go on with a tremulous Prime Minister who refuses to tell us anything. At the centre of a perfect storm of perilous minority government, Brexit, Grenfell and the constant threat of more terrorism, she clings to her delusional belief that governing Great Britain is a clerical affair conducted behind closed doors in the corridors of power. Could someone please advise her, it’s a lot more than that.
In fairness, it’s not only May who has withered under the dead weight of political advice. Hapless Lib Dem supremo Tim Farron was told to stay strong and tough out the avalanche of enquiries about his Christian views on gay sex and abortion. As a result, his enforced self-defence dragged on for two damaging weeks, wrecked the Lib Dems’ chances… and devout Tim quit in high dudgeon as soon as the election was done. Resigning to spend more time with his god.
It was advisors who persuaded May to call the general election. It was advisors who convinced her that to win a landslide victory all she had to do was to repeat moronic slogans. It was advisors who masterminded her Grenfell Tower strategy. Surely the best advice to the Prime Minister is to stop listening to her bungling backroom boys and girls and start making her own mind up. That much – as she would say – is very clear.
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