I genuinely fear Theresa May. Perhaps I shouldn’t, because we don’t really know her yet. That may be why she decided to go to the country so unnecessarily early, and before we got to know; or, to put it another way, to rumble her. Her reputation in government was of a boring but efficient worker at the Home Office. She was there longer than almost any other politician in history, which must say something; but she’s done little else. She appears to have no fixed principles or ideals, which is why she could switch, astonishingly, from being a Remainer to a ‘hard’ Brexiter overnight. Apparently ‘she doesn’t read much history, and tries not to picture how things will be in advance’: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/23/theresa-may-vogue-history-thatcher. I think that’s a pity; and not just because I’m a historian, or believe that ‘History’ is a reliable guide to the future, but because I think it can contextualize events in a thought-provoking way.
May seems to look at problems entirely out of context, apart from their immediate, day-to-day contexts. She’s a quintessential short-term pragmatist: the opposite, in this way, of Margaret Thatcher, with whom journalists – and perhaps the public – like to compare her, for obvious but superficial reasons. Poor David Cameron, one feels, was the same. May’s statements about policy are always vague, simply mouthing what she senses – from reading the Daily Mail – will go down well at the moment, and boost her image. Having very little personality, or at least one that shows, she resorts to vapid soundbites, served to her by her ad-men, and endlessly repeated, robotically: like her much-mocked ‘strong and stable’ phrase. (I’m sure it’s not true that she got this from an NHS pamphlet on erectile disfunction that Jeremy Hunt had left behind in the Cabinet Room. But it’s a good joke.) Recently she’s been concentrating on what a ‘bloody difficult woman’ she will be in her negotiations with EU leaders: image, again. Otherwise her speeches are devoid of reasoning, facts and joined-up thinking; anything one can bite on. A study of History might have corrected this. So might being willing to debate her policies with her rivals, or even with the public, which she has resolutely refused to do. She won’t appear with Corbyn on TV, and her local meetings are stage-managed to a ludicrous degree: with only Tory supporters allowed in, for example, and even reporters excluded: http://www.devonlive.com/theresa-may-visits-devon-after/story-30306851-detail/story.html. To her and her media friends, any criticism or even discussion of, for example, Brexit, is ‘treason’ or ‘sabotage’. She’s clearly frightened of it, and nervous of her ability to cope with it – or, indeed, with ‘ordinary people’. Hence the Lib-Dem ‘chicken’ that is following her around.
Her main achievements at the Home Office were (a) that dreadful poster driven around the streets on a side of a truck telling (some) immigrants to ‘go home’, which was soon scrapped, thank God; and (b) her ‘Snooper’s Charter’, whose effect is to increase government surveillance of ordinary citizens to an extent not found today in any other democratic country (see https://bernardjporter.com/2016/03/01/the-snoopers-charter/), and in a way that flouts some of the major professed ‘national values’ of Britain in the past. But of course, with no interest in History, she won’t have known that. (I do wish politicians would read my books!)
All of which puts her firmly on the ‘authoritarian’ wing of the Conservative Party – the one that I call ‘proto-Fascist’. This is bound to increase liberal fears when Brexit ultimately goes through, and she and her government are permitted to amend and pass legislation – undoing and replacing EU laws – by ‘statutory amendment’, without parliamentary debate: see https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/may/03/true-conservatives-fake-ones-destroying-britian-theresa-may-real-patriots. Monbiot in this article is right to dub this ‘unpatriotic’. If May had read anything about the history of our constitution, she would have known that.
I’ve just been into a betting shop for almost the first time in my life, and put £10 on Jeremy Corbyn to be the next Prime Minister, at 9/1. I’ve also asked if they can give me odds on Britain’s not leaving the EU after all. (She’s going to find out for me.) That seems to be turning out trickier than anyone anticipated. I’m not altogether comfortable with giving money to the ultimate capitalist industry, as I’ll surely lose both bets; but it’s a way of expressing solidarity.