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Friday, 19 May 2017

Theresa May: a new kind of Tory?

I have a little election quiz for you. See if you can work out which of the three main political parties made each of the following statements:

'Government can and should be a force for good ... and its power should be put squarely at the service of this country’s working people.'

'We know that our responsibility to one another is greater than the rights we hold as individuals.'

'Paying your fair share of tax is the price of living in a civilised democracy.'

'We will remain signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights for the duration of the next parliament.'

'Immigration to Britain is still too high. It is our objective to reduce immigration to sustainable levels, by which we mean annual net migration in the tens of thousands.'

OK, the last one was easy. But the other ones? Here's a clue. Each statement comes from the same party manifesto -- and it's the one in which the words 'strong and stable' appear no fewer than thirteen times.

That sound you hear is Margaret Thatcher spinning in her grave -- because Theresa May is using the cover of Brexit to rip up Thatcherism and recast her party as the Friend of the Workers. She has cast herself as The Queen of State Intervention and The Believer in Society. She is a cross between Boudicca and Elizabeth I. The Mother of the Nation.

Did you vote UKIP in 2015 and Leave in the referendum? Brexit means Brexit: Theresa's your woman.

Do you care about inequality and obscene fat cat salaries? Guess what, so does Theresa.

Did you vote Remain, but now just want to get the whole Brexit business over with so that we can get on with our lives? Yup, Theresa does too.

Oh, and if you think it's only reasonable that older people in need of expensive social care should be required to pay for some of it out of the absurdly inflated value of their family homes, so does Theresa. (The home I bought 35 years ago is now valued at 25 times as much as I paid for it. Why shouldn't some of that wholly undeserved wealth go towards paying for my care in my dotage?)

All things to all voters? Why not? Mrs May is a canny enough politician to seize the golden opportunity that she has been offered: if she wins the kind of majority that is being predicted for her on 8 June, the manifesto will entitle her to claim that 'the people have spoken' (where have we heard that before?) and endorsed her vision of the future.

How many Tory MPs and activists share that vision is an interesting question. And whether the impending Brexit storms will leave her with any breathing room in which to make that vision a reality is an equally interesting question.

I shouldn't think Ed Miliband and Nigel Farage would find that they have much in common were they to sit down for a ruminative chat, but on one thing they would agree: We wuz robbed. Mrs May has taken the Miliband vision of caring capitalism and the Farage vision of a Brexited, low immigration UK and made them both her own. Just as Tony Blair did two decades ago, she has planted her flag defiantly in the centre ground (which happens to be where most voters see themselves) and dares anyone to challenge her right of occupation.

What a shame that she and Emmanuel Macron of France will soon be spitting at each other (figuratively) across the Brexit negotiating table. They have a lot in common, both having cast themselves as big tent centrists, Macron by forming a brand new party, and May by reinventing the one she leads.

What was the main May message in Halifax on Thursday as she launched her manifesto? 'Come with me as I lead Britain.' Me, me, me ...

Sebastian Payne put it well in the Financial Times: 'This is a Conservative party document in name, but it is very much a product of the prime minister and her team. There is a notable focus on principles and ideas, arguing that there is such a thing as society, government can do good and collectivism and individualism need to work side by side.'

I admit that it is usually a mistake to read too much into manifestos. I still bear the scars from when I made a series of radio programmes ahead of the 1992 general election, in which we attempted to submit each of the main parties' manifestos to forensic and expert examination. One by one, they fell apart in our hands, their grandiose prose crumbling into meaningless guff.

Voters vote for many different reasons, but the detailed proposals set out in election manifestos are rarely a decisive factor in the decision they make. Trust in party leaders, on the other hand, is a major factor, which is why Tory election propaganda features the words 'Theresa May' wherever you look. It is also why the letter I got from my local Labour party candidate this week didn't include the words 'Jeremy Corbyn' once.


Not once.

2 comments:

P.V.E. Wood said...

The philosopher Herbert Spencer thought, when the Asquith government introduced school dinners for poorer children, that this was the moment when England became socialist. Theresa May wants to give all schoolchildren free breakfasts and still left-wing friends think she's an uncaring free marketeer.
Elections reduce everyone to absolute irrationality. In fact all the parties taking part in the British election are social democrats: the unconservative Conservatives, the illiberal Liberal Democrats, the S.N.P., the Greens and even Labour.
But Labour is led by 2 rather elderly men, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, who are not democratic socialists, but Marxist-Leninists of some sort.

Anonymous said...

I assume they'll all be fed cake for breakfast then?