This is the second post planned before my fifth hospital admission and is an update on my views on how well Theresa May is performing as Prime Minister. In summary, I believe she has two principal operating modes, best summed up by the epithets Little Miss I-Know-Best, introduced in June 2017 in my earlier pastiche Mr Men 2017 and Maybot, a robotic version, made famous by Guardian columnist John Crace. A third mode, used only out of sight of the public gaze, can be called May the Weak, reflecting the weakness and fragility of her position as the leader of a minority government.
I gave an early assessment after the Tory Conference in October 2016 in my post Who May She Be? about what sort of Prime Minister May would be; this is a kind of update. Reading this post again, I can summarize that I saw May as a hybrid mother hen and dominatrix; she’d said some positive things about inclusivity but I was deeply sceptical that she really meant it. Subsequent events have shown that my scepticism was well-founded.
Little Miss I-Know-Best
I introduced the character of Little Miss I-Know-Best to the pastiche of new and old Mr Men characters first featured in Mr Men 2016. The side of her personality that I wanted to emphasise there was her narrow-mindedness (“vicar’s daughter”), inflexibility and reluctance to take advice. Naturally shy, she seems to have made very few friends inside the Westminster bubble and so is short of allies when she needs them.
To compound the problem, the advice she does take seems to be poor and hindsight has shown she has chosen her advisers unwisely. The upside of this character trait is her stubborn persistence to carry on, spun as a strength by her spin doctors and the Tory-leaning press.
Her blinkered world view seems a regression in social policy compared with the Cameron years. I could not see May implementing – or having the authority – to carry through the introduction of same-sex marriage: vicar’s daughter again.
Her authoritarian streak suited her role as Home Secretary, where she delivered some of her most inhumane policy decisions. The most notable of these is the so-called “hostile environment” for allegedly illegal immigrants. This has led to policies such as indefinite detention of “failed” asylum seekers and most of those detained remain in the UK after their release. Recent notorious cases are about people who were brought here as children, lived all their adult lives in the UK and are now threated with deportation to their “home” country. A whole range of document checks to prove “entitlement” to work, housing and NHS treatment have thrown up some horrendous examples: here’s one.
May’s authoritarian instincts also show in the way she deals with other heads of government and EU officials. The tone is hectoring, often with an undertone of “The EU needs the UK more than we need them”. A good example was in her speech at the Munich Security Conference in February this year. Her tone simply irritates the others and encourages the more demented members of her Cabinet (Johnson, Fox, etc.) to adopt the same tone.
But perhaps the most famous example of her refusing to consider advice was her decision to call a snap election last year during a walking holiday in Wales with her husband Philip – a decision she must regret every day. And this was after denying seven times that she would do so, undermining her own credibility.
May’s second operating mode, usually used only in public, is the Maybot. This is a robotic automaton mode during which she is unable to answer questions and constantly repeats meaningless phrases until everyone is sick to death of hearing them.
At the 2016 Tory Conference, the slogan was “A country which works for everyone”; at the snap election, we heard “strong and stable” and “coalition of chaos” repeated ad nauseam. The Maybot mode is usually the default mode for TV interviews – making not answering the question into a kind of surreal, robotic art form – and, of course at Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons.
There are so many examples of this type of behaviour that John Crace compiled them into a book I, Maybot, released in time for the Christmas present book-buying public – gosh, I do sound cynical!
May the Weak
There is a third, and less obvious, operating mode used by May, out of the gaze of the British public: May the Weak.
I really don’t think May has the strength of character to deal with tough negotiating positions. Her recent pronouncements on Russian state involvement in the Salisbury poisoning went down well, but usually we get May the Weak – behind closed doors. Her camp followers (Mail, Express, Telegraph) all managed to lead their front pages with news other than May’s basically caving in to EU demands for the transition period to exiting the EU. This necessity has been obvious to me – and made very clear by Brussels officials for year or more. May has felt trapped by her own party and simply wasted a load of time. In all this, she has shown no understanding of the concept of the National Interest – a requirement of being PM.
The three pictures above show other obvious examples of May the Weak. Her indecent rush to the White House to meet Trump after his taking up office looked – and still looks – weak and sycophantic. May (and Liam Fox’s) sucking up to despots and dictators (such as the Saudi government shown here) bodes ill for Little Britain negotiating its way in the big, wide world. And in a straight fight between Arlene Foster and Theresa May, my money goes on Foster – and we have the evidence to support this.
(Incidentally, the DUP, on whom May is dependent for Commons support, is entirely unrepresentative of the Northern Irish people – in two important ways. 56% of the vote in the province was for Remain. Also, the Free Presbyterian Church, a tiny lunatic fringe Christian sect founded by Ian Paisley, is grossly over-represented in the DUP; over 30% of DUP members and representatives are members of this highly socially conservative group. In the Northern Irish population as a whole, the percentage is 0.6%.) This traps May between the lunatic fringe in her own party (the Crazies I wrote about last month) and the lunatic fringe in Ulster. The National Interest simply doesn’t get a look in. May the Weak simply doesn’t cut it as Prime Ministerial material.
It will come as no surprise, therefore, that my overall verdict on Theresa May’s performance as Prime Minister can be summed up in one short word: crap. My next post (the third of three planned last month) will include my conflicted thoughts on a suitable alternative.