Theresa May has just been crowned Britain’s new Conservative Prime Minister and already she’s carried out the first of her prime ministerial duties, which is to organise a new cabinet. Mind you, looking at some of the people she’s appointed to senior positions of state, I find it difficult to visualise a sharp-suited team of the UK’s brightest and best, exuding managerial calm and steadying the tiller after the trauma of the referendum vote to leave the European Union and the resignation of David Cameron.
Instead, I find myself picturing the characters in an American TV show from the 1960s: the much-loved, if ghoulish and morbid, Addams Family.
© Filmways / MGM Television
With Ms May at its head, this is a matriarchal cabinet. And fittingly, the Addams Family were a matriarchal unit too. So the new Prime Minister makes me think of the black-swathed Morticia Addams (and not, as some have suggested, Cruella De Ville from the 1961 Walt Disney cartoon 101 Dalmatians).
As for the tall, grey Philip Hammond, May’s new Chancellor of the Exchequer, I can’t help but think of the Addams household’s hulking and cadaverous butler Lurch. Actually, I suspect Hammond would like to be compared to something cadaverous; for according to one of his old schoolmates – the TV presenter Richard Madeley – Hammond was “a Goth back then… Used to arrive in class in a leather trench-coat with the Guardian under his arm.” No doubt it’s the Guardian bit that Hammond feels embarrassed about now.
© Filmways / MGM Television
Also in the Addams Cabinet is Andrea Leadsom, who was Theresa May’s main rival in the contest to replace Cameron as Prime Minister and is now Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. She’s surely the equivalent of Wednesday Addams, Morticia’s pale-faced and twin-braided little daughter. I say this because The Addams Family’s creator Charles Addams (who’d started drawing cartoons about them in the New Yorker magazine in the late 1930s) named Wednesday after a line in a nursery rhyme, “Wednesday’s child is full of woe”; and in the 1991 movie spin-off she was shown strapping her brother Pugsley into an electric chair in preparation for playing a game called ‘Is there a God?’ That sounds like Andrea Leadsom to me.
Meanwhile, Liam Fox, the new Secretary of State for International Trade, seems to be the Uncle Fester of the team. Maybe that’s because, thanks to Fox’s past improprieties, the names ‘Liam Fox’ and ‘Fester’ seem to go together nicely.
And then there’s Boris Johnson, who is – ahem! – Britain’s new Foreign Secretary. Who else could he be but Cousin Itt?
© Filmways / MGM Television
But seriously, this is a nightmarish batch of appointments that, with awful appropriateness, rounds off what’s been a nightmarish few weeks for the country. It’s as if May got drunk on vino the night before her announcement of the new cabinet, tried to decide whether she should piss everyone off by making it as right-wing as possible or as incompetent as possible, and in the end opted to do both.
Thus, we get Philip Hammond. In 2015, when Michael Gove, then Justice Secretary, abandoned a controversial prisons project for the Saudi Arabian government on the grounds that the UK shouldn’t be helping a regime that uses ‘beheadings, stonings, crucifixions and lashings’ as punishments, Hammond berated him for his ‘naivety’. It takes some doing to make Michael Gove seem humane and reasonable, but Hammond is clearly capable of it.
Then again, Hammond seems like a bleeding-heart liberal compared with Andrea Leadsom, who’s now responsible for all things rural and environmental in Britain. One of Brexit’s more vociferous supporters, she wrote in a 2007 blog post that EU subsidies to farmers should be abolished; while more recently she suggested that the UK’s hill farms be given over to breeding ‘butterflies’. Well, she must be delighted with the way the EU referendum vote turned out. Losing those EU subsidies will be tough on small-scale British hill farmers – my Dad was one and, towards the end of his working life, I know how much he valued that cash from Brussels – but hey, if they go out of business, with a few of them committing suicide over the loss of farms their families had owned for generations, that’s just good old capitalism for you.
© The Daily Telegraph
But even if under Ms Leadsom’s watch large tracts of the countryside get converted into butterfly-breeding areas or, more likely, into luxury housing developments or acreage for giant factory farms, I’m sure the traditional fox-hunting grounds will be kept green and leafy. For yes, Ms Leadsom also wants to repeal the ban on fox-hunting on the dubious premise that this will improve ‘animal welfare’.
Indeed, there isn’t much about the new Secretary of State for the Environment that seems terribly environmental. In 2011 she supported government plans (later abandoned) to sell off Britain’s forests; and in 2012 and 2016 she voted against setting targets for the limiting of Britain’s carbon emissions. And as late as 2015, she was asking ministers at the Department of Energy and Climate Change if climate change actually ‘existed’. (By the way, this Cameron-era ‘Department of Energy and Climate Change’ has now been replaced by the ‘Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’. Which is a clue to the priority that the new regime gives to combatting climate change: none, probably.)
© The Daily Telegraph
Then there’s Liam Fox. Back in 2011, Fox had to resign from his job as David Cameron’s Defence Secretary when it became apparent that a businessman and lobbyist called Adam Werrity was accompanying him to Ministry of Defence meetings and on overseas trips. Werrity had neither security clearance nor any ministerial responsibility. But he was Fox’s friend; and Fox saw no reason why his old chum shouldn’t be allowed to exploit his position to network with politicians, diplomats, contractors and financiers. One wonders how many spivs and chancers will be accompanying the newly-rehabilitated Fox on his travels as Secretary of State for International Trade.
Regarding Boris Johnson’s elevation to the role of Foreign Secretary… Well, I feel I have already written far more on this blog about Boris Johnson than the brain-addled baboon actually warrants. But really? What was Theresa May thinking? Did she believe that by making Johnson the voice of Britain on the international stage, foreign governments would find his bumbling, posh-idiot shtick amusing and forgive Britain for all the disruption it’s caused recently?
Well, here’s news for her. Foreigners don’t find Johnson funny. At best they think he’s a clown and at worst they hate his guts. Two decades of slurs and gaffes about Africans being ‘piccaninnies with watermelon smiles’, Hilary Clinton resembling a ‘sadistic nurse in a mental hospital’, Barack Obama being a ‘part-Kenyan’ with an ‘ancestral dislike’ of Britain, not to mention the lies he’s peddled about the European Union since the 1990s when he was the Daily Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent, have seen to that. Someone’s even compiled a map of the countries that Johnson has, over the years, managed to offend. Here it is. I think you’ll agree that the nations with good reason to despise Britain’s new Foreign Secretary cover an alarmingly large proportion of the world’s land mass.
Let’s return to being silly – I think I’ll need to be silly when I contemplate Britain over the next few years, because the alternative is to feel suicidally depressed about it. When I was a kid, I remember clicking my fingers and singing along to The Addams Family theme song whenever the show came on TV. How would the Theresa May version of The Addams Family song go? Probably something like this:
They’re creepy and they’re spooky,
They can’t get any nooky,
They make me really pukey –
The Tory gov-ern-ment!