On Tuesday (2 May), George Osborne started his first day in his new job as the editor of the Evening Standard, by criticising Theresa May and describing her campaign as no more than a slogan. From her “stable and strong” catchphrase to images of her eating chips in Cornwall, Theresa May has been offering some cheap thrills this week and lots of food for thought. No one will be able to see chips, or bacon sandwich for that matter—remember Ed Miliband’s own private and unfortunate moment of eating a sandwich?—the same way ever again. But Ed was congratulated today for his humorous response to the PM’s images. He tweeted, next to images of Theresa May consuming the infamous chips, by saying: “Theresa May we should talk.” 

George Osborne’s first day as editor

The Evening Standard’s main column yesterday, stated: “There’s nothing wrong with repeating election campaign slogans; the problem comes when the election campaign amounts to no more than a slogan. If you ask for a blank cheque, don’t be surprised if later it bounces.” The clever but caustic comment is one of the many harsh criticisms directed against May and the UK government’s hard Brexit stance. 

Promising to be “a bloody difficult woman” in the EU talks, May made the headlines on Wednesday, amidst increasing frustration with the EU’s uncompromising position. Her response came after Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier’s accounts of a dinner with the PM were leaked by a German newspaper. Both EU leaders warned that Brexit negotiations would be difficult, and remained sceptical about Theresa May’s belief that Brexit could be a success.  

Barnier: slow and painful Brexit

On Wednesday, Michel Barnier expressed hope about reaching a deal with the UK, but clarified that Britain shouldn’t entertain any illusions: Brexit won’t be “painless” or “quick.” “Some have created the illusion that Brexit would have no material impact on our lives or that negotiations would be concluded quickly and painlessly. This is not the case,” he said.

While he avoided confirming that there is such a thing as a €100bn (£84.5bn) divorce bill, he did say that there are certain commitments that need to be met: “The union and the United Kingdom have mutual commitments … We decided these programmes together, we benefited from them together.” 

He also indulged himself by using naturalistic metaphors, instead of simply saying that Brexit would be tough: “If you like walking in the mountains, you have to learn a certain number of rules. You have to learn to put one foot in front of the other…. You also have to look at what accidents might befall you…. You have to have stamina because it could be a long route.”

Barnier’s language and engaging commentary reveal a seasoned politician who is realistic without being critical of the UK. He is aware that “There will be consequences. Those who pretend, or who did pretend, that you can leave the EU and there are no consequences simply aren’t telling the truth.” But he is also willing to start the negotiations as soon as possible, and with an open mind.

From the EU’s point of view Theresa May’s government is being seen as “disingenuous,” if it believes that an early deal is possible. According to a Guardian source, officials preparing for the negotiations have described the recent mistrust between the EU and the UK as a “new phase in a phoney war,” but one that might turn out to be quite realistic when it comes to guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens. They said that the EU wants the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to be involved and that UK and EU citizens’ rights is a key part of the negotiations: “That won’t wash; they must know that,” the Guardian source said. 

Nick Clegg: Theresa May is “deluded on Brexit”

Nick Clegg’s afternoon column on the Guardian was as critical, as it was entertaining. He compared the Conservatives’ preparation for a general election to a “coronation:  hardly an atmosphere conducive to the subtlety, realism and humility necessary to persuade the rest of the EU to give us a good deal.”

He was critical of the Daily Mail’s “puffed-up anti-European bombast,” which, he warned, EU leaders would possibly read and find offensive. He added that the government’s Hard Brexit position and David Davis’ assertion that the UK would have the “exact same benefits” after Brexit, are just incompatible. 

Clegg listed all those promises made by the Brexiteers, which now seem as fantastic as when they were made, despite the fact that they seduced voters. But now, “Voters are already aware that the cost-free Brexit they were promised is unravelling. The £350m a week for the NHS, the VAT cut and the instant solution to immigration have all evaporated. Instead there is the chilling grip of a growing Brexit squeeze on people’s income and public services.”

For Clegg, Brexit will damage the economy, peoples’ livelihood, the public services and will redraw the socio-political reality in the UK.  As he wrote, no wonder that the EU believes “there is something faintly ‘delusional’ about this government.”

It shouldn’t be about personalities but politics

Theresa May has offered quite a lot of material this week to entertain Osborne, the EU’s Juncker and Barnier, and the Lib Dems’ Nick Clegg, but perhaps what really matters now is to get to politics. It appears that this campaign has been about the personality or individuality of the candidate, and not the real politics behind the person. For example, it is all about how Jeremy Corbyn is incapable of being a leader or just simply unpopular. For Cameron’s mum, the problem was that Corbyn was scruffy, since a year ago, Cameron attacked Corbyn by saying: “Ask my mother? I think I know what my mother would say. I think she’d look across the dispatch box and she’d say: put on a proper suit, do up your tie and sing the national anthem.”

Perhaps, the public display of May eating chips was a failed attempt to make her look like an ordinary person, but whether she looks like a likable personality or whether Corbyn appears unpopular, does it really matter? Politics should be about the issues and not about the person.  There might be a trend towards the cult of personality—and we have seen how inexperienced outsiders come to be presidents in the US—but what matters is the ideas behind the person, even if that person is a “bloody difficult woman.”