Tuesday 18 September 2018


For liberal defenders of its vaunted impartiality and balance, sometimes the BBC makes their job hard. Take Nick Robinson's interview with Theresa May for Panorama on Monday night, for example. Between Sunday morning and the final news bulletin prior to broadcast, it was the lead item on the news, and what got highlighted were the softest of soft questions. One has Robinson and May reclining on the back seat of the PM-mobile. Cheerfully, he observes "people remember the bloody difficult woman, but are now asking where is she?". Yes Nick. On the train to and from work the topic of conversation is seldom anything else.

For anyone who watched the interview and the puff footage surrounding it, Frost/Nixon it wasn't. The questions barely challenged Theresa May, and there was little in the way of a follow up. For example, her response to the Irish border plan put forward by the Moggy European Research Group, which sees checks on goods taking place away from the border were simply dismissed with a reiteration of the Chequers position of regulatory alignment. If Robinson was interested in earning his exorbitant salary as opposed to merely drawing it, he should have pressed her. Especially as their "solution" is technically feasible but politically, given its origin in the most backward section of the Tory party, unlikely to fly with the Commons coalition May is going to have to cobble together to see her deal through.

Apart from chummy chats with Robinson, we see May in action behind the scenes chairing a meeting of the cabinet, picking up the phone to Jean-Claude Juncker, and relaxing at Chequers watching the telly with government papers on her knee because, of course, even down time has to be work time. But the action shots were, well, boring. Unlike Dave who used such occasions to demonstrate how skilful he was at looking the part, May reminded me of someone kicked upwards to prevent her from messing up the real work done down below. How hollow strong and stable rings now. This was less an interview and more a concerted effort at a portrait, and quite an affectionate one at that - not withstanding snippets of interjections from Rees-Mogg, David Davis and Keir Starmer.

The ultimate criterion, however, is politics and in this instance whether we've learned anything new about May's approach to Brexit. And the answer is no ... and yes. In the no column May is pretending Chequers is the only game in town. The red lines - no to European Court of Justice jurisdiction, no to free movement between the UK and EU, no to big subs to Brussels for ever more - are there in principle and no doubt both sides will pay lip service to these positions after the deal is done, though I suspect all will continue in some way while the government insists up is down, day is night, and the Daily Telegraph prints the truth. It is also more evidence that May has hitched her fortunes to the Chequers Deal which, you will remember, is an outcome of the Tory party negotiating with itself as opposed to anything the EU might want. Whatever the eventual deal is she will be very sure to make it appear as close to her unrefined version of Chequers as possible, even if it does mean making significant concessions to get Blairite backbenchers on board "in the national interest".

It also demonstrates that May is no longer concerned with the Brexit headbangers on her hard right. She appeased them the once and has had nothing but grief in return. She's finally appreciated that the delicate balance in the Tory party that sees all her opponents balance each other out because her weak position is, perversely, a strong position. And, at the moment, Chequers plus more Norway-style concessions seem the best way to get Brexit through the Commons and salvage something of her career.


Anonymous said...

Note also,the quotes from Starmer, Davis and Mogg.. but no JC on the telly. Not when there's a chance he might look good.

Jim Denham said...

Based on past form, I suspect the reason JC wasn't featured was simply because he *didn't want to be*. He has little to say on the subject and consistently avoids it in the commons, the media and in public.

TowerBridge said...

Re: the comments above - is the strategy to stand back as much as possible and let the Tories implode over Brexit?

I get that, but I don't think it's a sustainable strategy. This thing is bigger than party politics. The country's future is in serious trouble over it.

Anonymous said...

But if the Tories are determined to throw us all over the cliff, what can a Labour party not in government realistically do to stop them?

They can't MAKE the government do anything, save make clear how high a political price they would pay for crashing out without a deal.