Saturday 2 September 2017

Theresa May's Delusions

When someone's struggling and trying really hard, it's the done thing to encourage them. To cheer them on. Please excuse me for setting aside propriety and have a good old laugh at the weak efforts of Theresa May. Living up to her submariner nickname, the Maybot (the Mayboat?) resurfaced from an August away from the public eye to hobnob with the great and the good of Japan. You'll remember them, the nation on the other side of the world who did more contingency planning for Brexit than our very own government. It was her comments at one press conference with her counterpart Shinz┼Ź Abe that generated interest and not a few guffaws in the land of political comment. No, not the ones referring to how the imminent EU/Japan trade deal would be the model for a future arrangement between them and ourselves, but her claims she is in office for the long-term and, snigger, she'll lead the Conservatives into the next general election.

I think almost everyone can accept that the Prime Minister is delusional. But delusions are not free-floating things. They are tethered to and offer an (outlandish) explanation of an existing state of affairs. There wouldn't be UFO conspiracy theorising without UFO sightings, for example. Assuming she made her comments in good faith and they weren't show for her Japanese hosts, how can May's reading of the Tories' dread fortunes allow for such a conclusion? The most obvious and immediate is the balance of forces as they presently exist. Amid the predictions of her imminent demise after the party bungled the general election and following their lacklustre response to the horror of the Grenfell tower tragedy, a few people (including yours truly) went against the tide and predicted she would carry on. As we gear up for a tough conference for the Tories and the return of Parliament, the balance remains the same. Casting an eye over the would-be Caesars, none dare play the Brutus. Because it's in all the contenders' interests to pitch her out of a window, none will do so.

From May's point of view, this balancing of interests could be construed as a position of strength. She's still there and all talk of a challenge has been just that. Wounded as May is, who's in the wings who could do a better job and carry all in the party before them just as May did four short months ago? Amber Rudd is too weakened after she scraped back in. "Call me Philip" Hammond is marginally more popular with the parliamentary party than syphilis, Boris Johnson's rock star celebrity stands exposed as a media confection, Liam Fox is still disgraced, David Davis too divisive and bastardy, and Andrea Leadsom is ... what she is. The Cameroon standard bearer abandoned ship and it's too early for new backbench "talent". I know this, and the Prime Minister knows it too.

Brexit is the permanent crisis dogging this government, and is also why our fainthearted usurpers are hanging back. Why have their imagined leadership tarnished when May can carry the can for the cluster mess? May is nevertheless aware that a crisis can become opportunity if handled correctly. While her enemies cancel one another out, she has no choice but to use Brexit to regenerate and relaunch her leadership. If she gets Brexit right, she believes it can strengthen her, turn the government's political fortunes around and grant her a favourable place in the history books, if not at the helm of the next general election campaign. Delusional? Certainly, but on-paper possible. The problem here is what would a successful Brexit look like? As the economy is staggering and investment stalling further thanks to growing uncertainty, business is applying heavy pressure for as soft a landing as possible. May, however, remains wedded to a hard exit, which becomes more likely the more Davis and Johnson prat about and antagonise the EU27. She knows if a confrontation is forced, if Britain can strike the plucky underdog to the overbearing might of the continental beast there is a great deal of political profit to be had. For May, a hard Brexit with no deal plus enmity toward Johnny Foreigner is the best outcome for her premiership and chances for staying on to reshape the aftermath.

One would think a more sensible approach would prevail and prevent such a disaster from happening, but if I've learned one thing from watching the Tories it's that they can never be trusted to do the right thing. They fall short on this score even by the collective class interests they represent. May might be delusional, her hopes of clinging on long-term are shot, but if she really believes she can stay it means she is going to do the kind of damage you, me, and the rest of our class are going to be expected to pay for.

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