She is dangerous.
The danger lies in the quiet, composed demeanour, the elegant attire, and the undemonstrative manner. Charm of a kind surrounds the enigma. Whether she is within herself intelligent and whether she is kind or sincere are matters of speculation. The inner core of her is hidden away. Outwardly she is not obviously in the grip of an obsession. Nor does she disseminate her beliefs except in the vaguest terms.
She promises much. But judged by her actions, she delivers measures that break those promises as soon as they are made. Either she is the victim of irresistible pressure or the legerdemain is consummate. She has yet to be called to account by a media that is either enraptured by her or is confused by and/or fearful of her. Perhaps they who do not admire her are frightened by her. There is a ruthless ambition at work. She enjoys power, and is autocratic in effect. The Lords debate and she is there watching, something prime ministers are entitled to do but for obvious constitutional reasons rarely do.
She does. She watches and waits, as she has done all her career. Nobody knows what is really there inside. Therein lies the danger.
She is not going to make Thatcher’s mistake of wearing her principles on her sleeve.
She is not going to be easily rattled like Heath. She is not well-meaning but indecisive like Major. But she is not going to march to sound of gunfire like Cameron in all his clumsy arrogance.
She watches and she waits like a predatory lynx before a herd of unsuspecting prey. Theresa May is more dangerous than anyone imagines.
We know from her actions that she approves of secession from the European Union, but she very likely did not think it possible until the referendum narrowly won the day for reaction. Her loyalty to the idea of Europe was expedient rather than principled. We know from her actions that she dislikes immigrants, including refugee children. We can judge from her sentiments that her vision is of a Britain whose central ethos is Anglo-Saxon and Anglican in the nostalgic mist of schoolgirls in straw hats, cricket on the green and street parties for royal occasions. Nurses in blue capes and doctors in tweeds attend to the sick.
The libraries and classrooms are peopled by the smart, polite and attentive. A deferential mechanic mends the car. A deferential gardener prunes the trees.
Families own their town homes. Charitable foundations [with voluntary help] and popular initiatives fund the schools, clinics and alms houses.
Well, why not? she appears to be saying. What once seemed an impossible dream so crazed it was barely articulated is now firmly in place. As surely as Beatrice Webb saw the ideals of her youth become politically possible, Theresa May has seen discredited reaction become the centre ground. Her mission is to harden reaction into conventional wisdom that it shall be difficult to argue against.
Key in hand, she is winding the clock backwards with none of the qualifying hesitations of her predecessors. Her grip is firm because her agenda is one of volition rather than reasoned principle.
The conventional wish is that she faces a weak and divided opposition. If that were her thinking she would not be so fixed on discrediting the leader of the opposition, even when he quotes from evidence in his hand. A surprise victory in 2015, with a slender majority makes a fragile government. The narrow victory for secession in 2016 makes an uncertain future. She may look unassailable, but she knows there are electoral pitfalls beckoning the unwary especially when competing against wild card romantic nationalists no less reactionary than the governing party.
May is cautious. Like many in politics, May encountered as a young adult the bland complacency of Oxford Platonism. She has not moved since into a more generous space. Where others [Richard Crossman, Iris Murdoch] have questioned the authoritarian tendency, May duly wrote the required essays.
She appears never to have challenged the orthodoxies of her upbringing and education. Significantly, she has championed the lost cause of grammar schools.
This requires some consideration. Grammar schools are often spoken of now as if they were charitable institutions for the poor, like Bluecoat schools. There were a few scholarships for the deserving poor capable of absorption. But grammar schools were privileged institutions, often of ancient foundation, following a curriculum and ethos resembling the Public Schools. Grammar schools, which educated Shakespeare and Pepys, were fee-paying until 1944. They were civic foundations for the children of local burgesses, merchants and the learned professions. An Anglican rector’s daughter naturally would attend a grammar school.
Attempts to gain popular appeal by stressing May’s ‘state education’ resemble Thatcher’s disingenuous attempts to downplay her middle-class origins. Nobody ever should be castigated for his/her social origins and education. These are matters over which the child has no choice. But evident truths are as they are. Theresa May is the epitome of the English professional/upper middle-class. She has not forged an identity beyond the confines of class and convention.
Today she rules. She is no longer a pawn on the chessboard. No longer the lady-in-waiting, she deliberates every move. That lack of spontaneity, however, is an area of weakness. A quick-witted rhetorician could wound her fatally. Can she answer the questions of declining social care and health provision, declines consequent on policies promoted by cabinets in which he has served and over which she presides? Can she resolve the conundrum of imperial attitudes in a post-imperial society? Dare she be sure that a perplexed and angry electorate will trust her when the cracks in the concrete divide society even further?
Clearly her political future is dependent on the success of economic trajectories that are acts of faith rather than reasoned policies. If the gamble pays off, her authority is paramount, and the future is an insular, individualist retroversion where piecemeal charity is the watchword and commonwealth is derelict, often mistaken for a folly. If the gamble fails a provisional administration may need to enact emergency welfare programmes and wholesale public ownership of a bankrupt economy.
An alternative scenario to the latter is a fragmented Britain with England becoming if not the fifty-first state then little better than a strategically useful island with a cultural heritage and a ready supply of cheap labour eager to speak American.
Theresa May’s moral failings are evident. They are certain to lead to political failure that may take some time to become evident. She is hard and driven, if outwardly calm. Power overwhelms her conscience and narrows her intellect. She is dangerous even to her own side. And the game has barely begun.Tags: Domestic (UK)
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This post was written by Geoffrey Heptonstall