Friday 6 January 2017

Theresa Maybe

The Economist is hardly what anyone would call a left-wing magazine. In fact the distinct lack of critical analysis during George Orborne's six ruinous years of ideological austerity, makes it fair to say that the Economist is the kind of magazine that sits comfortably on the coffee tables of plenty of blue-to-the-core Tories. This is a magazine that knows their market, and isn't prone to harming their bottom line by giving their centre-right audience cognitive dissonance headaches by ripping the guts out of the Tory party.

The Economist isn't prone to overt criticism of the Tory party, so their Theresa Maybe front page and the scathing editorial to accompany it has become quite the political sensation.

The Brexit shambles

The main thrust of the Economist editorial's criticism is that Theresa May is dithering over Brexit. The accusation is well founded. She's working to a self-imposed deadline of March 2017 to get her Brexit strategy sorted out but there simply doesn't seem to be any progress beyond feeble platitudinous sound bites like "Brexit means Brexit" and the even more pitiful "red, white and blue Brexit".

Nobody is asking Theresa May and the three Brexiteers to give away their entire negotiating strategy, but what everyone wants to see is the basic outline of a negotiating stance.

It's been almost six months since she bagged herself the top job, and her self-imposed Article 50 deadline is getting closer by the day, yet one of the top civil servants just resigned with a letter slamming the government for their lack of negotiating objectives.

How is it possible that the British people, and British businesses still don't even know the basics? We're two thirds of the way to her self-imposed deadline and nobody even knows if she's going to try to keep the UK in the single market or commit a massive act of economic self-harm by dragging us out of the biggest trading block on the planet on the back of a non-binding advisory referendum that didn't even mention the single market in the question.

What on earth have Theresa May and the Brexiteers been doing for six months? And how on earth can they justify keeping British industry in the dark for so long?

You don't have to be left-wing or right-wing to accept the fact that economic uncertainty is bad for the economy.

The situation seems to be that Theresa May believes that months of economic uncertainty are good for her political self-interest. She knows that whichever way she plays her cards she's going to take a pasting. Either she seeks to retain access to the single market which would provoke howls of outrage from the hard Brexiters (who are a fundamentally important Tory demographic) or she commits a massive act of economic self-harm by giving the hard Brexiters what they want, which would likely go down extremely badly with British businesses, especially the financial sector (which is by far the biggest source of Tory party donations).

Theresa May's solution to this Brexit conundrum is cowardice. She's clearly trying to hold off the storms of criticism for as long as possible by keeping the entire economy in a state of harmful uncertainty. As far as she's concerned the economic damage she's causing is a small price to pay in order to do what's best for her own political career, which she imagines to be a strategy of talking in platitudes and holding off the criticism for as long as possible.

The author is clearly a Tory sympathiser

The Theresa Maybe editorial is a good read because it's written by a clear Tory sympathiser who has obviously lost patience with Theresa May's Brexit shambles. They've lost patience so badly that they've finally stopped biting their tongue and come out and said it.

The article is peppered with clues that the author has Tory inclinations. The most bizarre of these numerous pro-Tory tells is the assertion that May had "a reputation for dogged competence at the Home Office".
  • Theresa May insisted on swimming against the global tide towards rational drugs policy to force through an ideologically driven prohibitionist law that was derided by experts as "unenforceable".
If a woeful track record like this is capable of earning her a reputation for dogged ministerial competence, then I'd be fascinated to see what horrors would need to be committed in order for staff at the Economist to actually call someone out as incompetent.

Another pro-Tory tell is the way the article praises Theresa May for the way she "skillfully survived the Brexit referendum despite backing the wrong side". Theresa May clearly prioritised her own personal self-interest by keeping a low profile during the debate. It's obvious that she saw hanging on to one of the high offices of state and keeping as quiet as possible as a much better career move than picking a side and putting her best effort into supporting it.

Theresa May made just 29 media appearances during the EU referendum debate while Jeremy Corbyn made 123. Despite this massive gulf in effort between the pair, the mainstream media have set the narrative Jeremy Corbyn is to blame for Brexit, meanwhile Theresa May continues to actually get praised as "skillful" for her brazenly self-serving non-campaign!

The whole Theresa Maybe editorial is sprinkled with pro-Tory tells, but as infuriating as some of them are, these displays of pro-Tory bias actually give the piece a good deal of legitimacy. The author clearly isn't an obvious "leftie" like me, it's someone with strong Tory inclinations who has finally lost patience with Theresa May's abject dithering.

Control freakery

The Theresa Maybe article makes an interesting comparison. After raising the usual and predictable comparisons with Margaret Thatcher, the author then goes on to make a much more apt comparison with Gordon Brown.
"He, too, was thin-skinned. Like her, he moved into Downing Street without an election, in 2007. He also started with a fearsome reputation and big promises. And when it became clear he had little idea what to do with the job he had so coveted, he flopped."
It's undeniable that Theresa May displays two of the same glaring character weaknesses as Gordon Brown. She's a control freak who seems to think that the government has some kind of moral obligation to interfere in the lives of citizens as much as possible, and she's incredibly thin-skinned. When Jeremy Corbyn gets the better of her PMQs (which, despite his obvious limitations, he manages to do more often than not) May often completely loses her self-control and ends up scowling ferociously and giving furiously shrill replies.

Whether she ends up losing her grip on power at her first General Election like Gordon Brown did is another matter entirely. Admittedly it doesn't seem very likely now, but three years is a long time in politics.

What is "Mayism"?

The editorial points out that Theresa May was thrust into power just three weeks after David Cameron resigned in shame at the failure of his Brexit gamble. She got there via a farcical Tory leadership election in which Tory party members ended up being denied the opportunity to even vote, meaning that "Mayism" (whatever it is) has never faced any kind of electoral test at all.

The article then points out that May's political philosophy is hopelessly muddled, identifying her contradictory pronouncements on wanting Britain to be the most radical free-trade economy on the planet, whilst simultaneously going on about developing a British "industrial strategy". Unless May's industrial strategy consists of nothing more than "just leave it to the markets" then it's unlikely to be the kind of free-trade fanaticism she's hawking to the hard-right demographic.

This is the conclusion to the article:

"The need for every policy to be agonised over in Downing Street, the secrecy over Brexit and the silence on the government’s broader plans for Britain all point to the same problem: Theresa Maybe does not really know what she wants."
Does it really matter?

The inescapable conclusion is that Theresa May is a ditherer who doesn't really know what she wants.

She's clearly a self-serving career politician of the kind who seems to have been bought up on a diet of Ayn Rand's barmy hard-right pseudo-philosophy that pure self-interest is a virtue. She's got where she is by ruthlessly prioritising her own self interest, but now she's finally got her hands on the power she craved, she doesn't have any new ideas whatever. All she's got in her handbag is the authoritarian control freakery that saw her develop the most invasive state snooping laws in the developed world and indisputably the best Thatcher impersonation of all the female Tory MPs.

Disappointingly Thersa May's combination of incompetence, dithering, authoritarian control-freakery and an admittedly strong Thatcher impersonation are sufficient to satisfy millions of people. Her personal approval ratings are consistently better than any UK party leader aside from Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland, and the Tories are somehow soaring high in the polls.

It doesn't seem to matter how woefully inept the performances of Theresa May and her three Brexiteers continue to be. It doesn't seem to matter that her actions are clearly guided by ruthless self-interest rather than any great political conviction. It doesn't seem to matter that her rhetoric is profoundly dishonest or that her parliamentary answers are desperately evasive and clearly pre-written by a team of highly paid Tory wonks. She's got well over three years until the next election, and enough of the public adore her that she seems politically untouchable, no matter how much incompetent dithering she continues to do.

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