I haven’t written anything about politics on this blog recently. This is because writing about politics involves thinking about politics, and these days thinking about politics involves fighting off the urge to go away and shoot myself. However, in the United Kingdom, a lot has been happening lately – the council elections in England, Scotland and Wales held two days ago and the unexpected announcement of a general election to be held on June 8th. Thus, I guess I’d better say something. Here goes.
Wow. That was some speech by our Prime Minister Theresa May the other day, once she’d been to Buckingham Palace to inform the Queen about parliament being dissolved in preparation for the general election on June 8th. May claimed that the European Union was out to get her, and her government, and by extension dear old Blighty itself: “Threats against Britain have been issued by European politicians and officials. All of these acts have been deliberately timed to affect the result of the general election which will take place on June 8th.”
For someone who’s been making a big hoo-ha about the strength and stability of her leadership recently, these allegations about nasty Johnny Foreigner sounded particularly unhinged – not so much the utterances of a Prime Minister but the utterances of the crazy old lady who gets onto the bus and sits beside you and spends the ensuing journey wittering about how purple lizards are eating her feet.
And is it just me, or is the gurning May looking more and more like Bette Davis as the grotesque Jane Hudson in Robert Aldrich’s 1962 gothic classic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
© Daily Mirror
© Warner Bros. / Seven Arts Productions
However, as Polonius remarks in Hamlet, “Though this be madness, yet there is madness in’t.” Her diatribe against the Europeans might have made any sane listener think she was a basket-case; but many people, not necessarily sane, who in recent elections had been voting for the xenophobic right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party, aka UKIP, decided they liked the cut of May’s jib and voted instead for her Conservative Party at Thursday’s local-government elections. As a result, the Conservatives surged in those elections, whereas UKIP’s representation on councils across Britain dropped from 146 to… one.
It’s good to see UKIP, the toxic tarantula of British politics, get stomped to death. Unfortunately, that tarantula has been stomped on by a rabid gorilla, the Conservative Party, and it’s going to stomp on you next.
If these results are repeated in the June general election – and with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party looking so spectacularly useless, there’s no reason why they won’t – then the Conservatives will get a whopping majority in parliament and May will be queen of all she surveys, in Britain anyway. Unfortunately, she’ll then have to try and negotiate Brexit, i.e. Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. Which means sitting down with and spending the next few years in long, complicated and arduous talks with the very people she’s severely pissed off – the EU itself and its 27 member governments.
Already, May’s government has approached these negotiations with the finesse of Godzilla taking a stroll through downtown Tokyo. Her initiation of Brexit on March 29th came with a warning that, in the event of no deal being agreed, the UK might be reluctant to share intelligence about terrorism with its former EU partners – a charmless threat that prompted the Sun newspaper to run the front-page headline: YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIVES (“Trade with us and we’ll fight terror.”) Although May says she disapproves of foreigners interfering in UK politics, she’s never spoken out against the constant, decades-long interference by one foreigner, the Sun’s proprietor Rupert Murdoch, who’s Australian-American.
Soon after came an insinuation by former Conservative Party leader Michael Howard that Britain could go to war with EU-member Spain over the sovereignty of Gibraltar. (Cue the Sun again: UP YOURS, SENORS!) I’m perfectly aware that Howard is an old idiot and not to be taken seriously, but it’s depressing that neither May nor anyone in her cabinet saw fit to condemn his comments.
Then, the other week, there was the now-infamous dinner attended by May and Jean Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, at which Juncker was astonished by how ill-informed and simplistic May was about the complexity and length of the negotiations ahead. No wonder afterwards he got on the phone to Angela Merkel and warned her that the British PM “lived in another galaxy.” Details of the dinner were leaked to a German newspaper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine, which seems to have inspired May’s rantings about EU interference in the forthcoming election. Not that I imagine many of the British electorate reading the Frankfurter Allgemeine, or being able to read German for that matter. I wonder if some of the people likely to vote for May can even read English.
Following the May-Juncker dinner debacle, just to make the Conservatives’ charm offensive of Europe complete, Ruth Davidson – May’s loyal lieutenant, ventriloquist dummy and mini-me in Scotland – suggested that Juncker’s comments weren’t to be taken seriously because he’d probably been drunk during the meal. Yes, accusing your opposite numbers of being pissheads. That’s the way to lay the groundwork for really successful negotiations.
It seems to me that Theresa May, once she has the general election in the bag, is in for a very long and very hard reality-check when the Brexit talks begin in earnest. She may have reached the top of the pile in British politics by Euro-bashing but her words will return to haunt her. After the abuse that’s been flung at it across the English Channel, is the EU going to show Britain a shred of sympathy or allow it a modicum of wriggle-room? I doubt it. Brexit looks set to be a disaster, ending with the UK tumbling out of the EU with no deal at all, something that sane economists agree would be a very bad thing indeed.
No doubt, though, many Conservative hardliners are rubbing their hands in glee at this prospect. It’d wreck the British economy, yes. But then they’d be free to build that economy up again from the wreckage, fashioning it into a low-tax, no-minimum-wage, regulation-free, zero-hour-contracts-galore monstrosity that fits their scary alt-right vision of Britain as Air Strip One / Tax Haven Two / Sweatshop Three.
In the short term, Theresa May has scaled the heights thanks to anti-European opportunism and calculation. But I predict it’ll end badly once the Brexit process kicks in. The Tower of Theresa has been built on rotten foundations and it’s going to topple. Let’s hope Britain as we know it isn’t flattened beneath the rubble.
And incidentally, if you need any more reasons not to vote Conservative in the forthcoming general election, here’s 30 of them.