A strong Prime Minister would have taken the opportunity after the Brexit referendum to bring the parties and the country together to decide on the type of Brexit that would be most positive and least damaging for Britain. Instead we had the hiatus before the Lancaster House speech in January 2017 in which people in this country and those across Europe were treated as bystanders while la May set out what she wanted to get out of Brexit. Then in April she called a far from snap general election during which we were treated ad nauseam to ‘Theresa’s Team’ and the alleged ‘strong and stable’ PM who needed a bigger majority to strengthen her hand in negotiations with Brussels.
Despite the opposition of much of the media, and sniping from many in his own party, Jeremy Corbyn and Labour ran a brilliant campaign that, together with a manifesto that was genuinely for the many not the few, was a triumph. The electorate treated May’s attempt at tyranny with the contempt it deserved and she is now dependent on a deal with the DUP to retain even a slight lead in Commons votes.
Then we had the EU withdrawal bill and the Florence speech. If the latter was reminiscent of Ermintrude and the magic roundabout, the former reeks of totalitarianism. Hopefully, we are still a democracy and the Commons will amend this attempt by the executive to take power to itself in an unaccountable and underhand way. Nevertheless, ironic at best, at worst something else– that Brexit was sold partly as Britain taking back sovereignty.
And now, about a year before the Brexit negotiations must be concluded if Parliament is to be given the meaningful vote it has been promised, eyes are off the ball once again. Since Wednesday November 1, the defence secretary has resigned because of, and the first secretary is embroiled in, sexual harassment allegations. After the election the Conservatives had to buy DUP support, but will the DUP be prepared for long to be associated with this sleaze? Doesn’t it question their values? Or is that the sort of old-fashioned view that has long been superseded by a pragmatic, ‘anything goes’ culture in which coming out ahead is all that matters, when ends justify whatever means have been used to attain them?
The international development secretary has not only broken the ministerial code but looks to have been running an alternative foreign policy as well. It might be argued that, given the current foreign secretary, someone has to run a foreign policy but her’s seems not just to have been filling the void left by Johnson but to have been an alternative to Britain’s position as well.
And then there is the supposed foreign secretary himself, who, if his performance of Kipling was totally inappropriate, other misjudgements and inadequacies have put people at risk. Nobody minds arrogance if it is accompanied by exceptional competence. When it is no more than a veil for exceptional incompetence, the reaction is rightly horrified. In such a high profile position, and at this point in history, the country can ill afford to have a buffoon in the post who makes the country a laughing-stock.
On July 22 2016 the Private Eye cover was headed ‘New Prime Minister meets Queen’ with a photo of May curtseying. “How low can you go?” asked the Queen. “I’ve appointed Boris as Foreign Secretary,” was the answer. Spot on, as often Private Eye is, but May’s appointment brings us all down with it.
It is also indicative of a Prime Minister who is weak and watery rather than ‘Strong and stable’. This mantra has already come to haunt her, but its risible assertion will echo down the years too.