“Every Little Thing She Does Is Tragic”, as The Police didn’t sing in 1981. When I wrote my previous post, Mayday! Mayday!, I was unaware of the news about the disastrous meeting Theresa May had in Downing Street with Jean-Claude Juncker. But the extent to which May annoyed and frustrated the EU delegation is entirely consistent with my “clash of cultures” analysis in that post. By poisoning the atmosphere before negotiations are even under way, May has got off to an extraordinarily worrying start.
But there’s worse, much worse: namely, yesterday’s speech in Downing Street. In it, she made some very serious accusations against EU officials and politicians in other EU countries. Several newspapers have spoken of her “declaring war” on Brussels, either approvingly or disapprovingly, according to their world views. I’m obviously in the disapproving camp. May’s accusations were probably slanderous and, deliberately delivered in the full pomp of the Downing Street setting, are unworthy of the role of a British Prime Minister.
In Johnson, Davis and Fox, May chose to appoint to key EU-sensitive positions a narcissistic loose cannon, a maverick and a deluded fool. Fox was sacked as Defence Secretary for a breach of the ministerial code so serious he should never again have been put anywhere near an office of state. Egged on by these three, she has allowed a delusional view of the EU exit negotiations to become official government policy. The UK government was signatory to the drafting of Article 50 – the drafting was even led by a UK diplomat! Has no one explained to her what the rules are? Or did she just not listen?
Not listening – or refusing to accept what she was told – fits with my prior understanding of May’s personality. In Obsession I refer to her authoritarian streak and small-mindedness. Today’s Guardian reminds us that May’s (untrue) justification for calling the election was the intolerable temerity of opposition parties in Parliament in doing their job: i.e. opposing the Government. Now she accuses EU officials and politicians because they challenge her “facile and confrontational” approach to negotiations. The Guardian concludes from this that May sees the world as “a place where everyone is out of step except her”.
Let’s face it: the UK is outnumbered 27 to 1 in the negotiations: 28 if you include the EU itself. Some measure of respect and mutual understanding is essential if the talks are going to go anywhere. This is recognised by all the leaders of the other main parties (except, of course, UKIP). May’s tone and her whole approach, if not changed, will mean she is doomed to failure. Her personality is her own – and her country’s – worst enemy.
Add to this her approach to the election campaign. May has refused to debate on TV with other party leaders. She is cocooned in a series of set piece events filled exclusively with party supporters, hiding away from the wider public. She has alienated several sections of local media by locking them out of these events. These are not the actions of a “strong” leader, but rather those of a paranoid, over-controlling one.
May’s stark, confrontational words yesterday seemed designed to do just one thing. That is to buy her short-term voting advantage in the general election. Specifically, she wants the vote of former UKIP voters. They could hardly refuse, as May’s rhetoric is now indistinguishable from UKIP’s. But the words will come back to haunt her over the next two years, having ruffled feathers needlessly. On BBC Ten O’Clock News last night, political editor Laura Kuenssberg pointedly said to camera there are some things that can’t be unsaid – especially in the formal, iconic setting of a Downing Street campaign launch.
May is hemmed in from all directions. She continues to feed the beast of the Irreconcilable wing of the Tory Party. (Cameron tried this, first with undeliverable immigration reduction targets, then with the EU renegotiations, and finally with the commitment to a referendum. That went well – not! The beast that is the Irreconcilables will never be satisfied until Britain declares war on its nearest neighbours!)
She is hemmed in by her reckless choice of Johnson, Davis and Fox. She is hemmed in by her (self-imposed) need never to cross the Daily Mail. She is hemmed in by her need always to get her own way. She is hemmed in by her failure to listen to advice. Her aggression will further split and divide us. (The other EU members would much prefer to negotiate with someone leading a united nation.) The result will be an economic and socially catastrophic crash out of the EU on the worst possible terms. In other words, mayhem.
All this, of course, is true only if we, the British public, let her. Only if we give her what she wants: a crushingly overwhelming majority. So, get real: don’t vote for Mayhem.