The Church of Theresa May: “Keep calm and trigger Article 50”
Theresa May’s Tory conference address on Sunday (2 Oct.) had an air of religious reformation, hailing Brexit as “the one true faith,” a commentator in this Guardian article so brilliantly put it. From chastising “divisive nationalists” or rejecting any parliamentary decision to trigger Article 50, May put at ease those Eurosceptics who had any doubts about her true faith.
In general, this week’s atmosphere at the conference, from fanatic anti-European zeal to fervent appeals to immigration control can be best described as a “Tory delirium—it’s like stumbling into a Ukip meeting”, another commentator said. Especially, Amber Rudd’s proposal to businesses to reveal how many foreigners they employ was met with considerable criticism.
Theresa May’s Country for everyone and meritocracy:
In her speech on Wednesday (5 Oct.), the last day of the Tory conference, May presented herself as a servant to God and Country responding to her “noble calling” to do things, not just be someone. She accused the liberal elite for mocking British patriotism and promised to “stand up for the weak” and ordinary people. But as many have argued, May’s courage and passion will have to turn into action, if she is going to be taken seriously in the long run.
For May, Disraeli, Churchill, Attlee and Thatcher were leaders who showed the good that government can do. She said they “taught us we could dream great dreams again.”
The talk, entitled, “The Good that Government can do,” focused on her vision for Britain and her priority of ending EU law and free movement from Europe. But beyond her mix of sentimentalism, conservative stance on immigration and education, a dislike for corporatism and international elites’ tax avoidance, there was no sign of a clear policy agenda.
But May wanted to separate herself from previous governments and change how things are done:
• Unlike Thatcher, she praised collaboration instead of “individualism and self-interest.”
• While Conservatives usually favour lower tax, she promised to target those who avoid tax, describing taxation as “the price we pay for living in a civilised society.” She warned: “If you’re a tax dodger, we’re coming after you. If you’re an accountant, a financial adviser or a middleman who helps people to avoid what they owe to society, we’re coming after you too.”
• She made a case for supporting “ordinary, working-class people.” She said: “We are the party of workers – of those who put in the effort, those who contribute and give of their best.” Her party would become “the new centre ground of British politics, build on the values of fairness and opportunity, where everyone plays by the same rules”. She called the Labour party the “nasty party”, while presenting Conservatives as the new party “of workers, the party of public servants, the party of the NHS.”
May’s position is a “Frankenstein monster”:
This weird monstrous mixture of working-class compassion and anti-immigrant passion is very unusual and difficult to pigeonhole in terms of left or right politics. Sebastian Payne from the Financial Times said that Labour and UKip should be very worried: “if Mrs May can swing from left to right in such a seamless fashion, how are we going to maintain their individual identities? Mayism could be just the change that British politics needs.” But others have commented on how similar Theresa May’s speech was to that of Ed Miliband back in 2013.
Brexit vote was a call for change:
May concluded her speech by saying “Come with me and together let’s seize the day.” May is aware that many people who voted to leave the EU, did not vote for immigration control or for the opportunity of expanding trade outside the EU. They simply voted for a change in the system. She knows that those who wanted Brexit were the poor people who were made to believe that by cutting the influx of immigrants would give them more opportunities, jobs and privileges. They were made to believe that Brexit would bring that change. And May is very clearly trying to please and assure them. This was understood by the Mirror as a “deceitful speech” for the Labour vote. It was a speech directed to these groups that voted Brexit.
But the Labour party promised to watch closely to make sure that these promises are not empty.
But is May going to keep her word?
The Labour party, the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats all responded by describing her policies as “right-wing,” “repellent” and “nasty.”
Nicola Sturgeon said that: “Theresa May’s vision of Brexit Britain is a deeply ugly one – a country where people are judged not by their ability or their contribution to the common good but by their birthplace or by their passport.”
The Institute of Directors (IoD) are also angry with May who is treating business leaders as villains. The director of policy, James Sproule, said: “Plans to ‘name and shame’ companies who employ foreign workers, aside from adding to bureaucracy, send precisely the wrong message. The prime minister should instead listen to her own advice and remember that, in Britain, it doesn’t matter where you were born. Make no mistake, Britain is at its best when it is open and offering a home to the world’s brightest and best who want to study and build a better life for themselves, while contributing to the British economy.”
The trade union Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey said: “This was a speech which failed to take responsibility for the past six years of Tory government, of which the prime minister was a leading figure, and the policies which have resulted in a country that works just for the privileged while ordinary people increasingly struggle to make ends meet. There was no mention of the soaring use of foodbanks or the explosion in precarious work, nor the damage being wrought on communities by cruel Tory cuts over these past six years.”
Hard Brexit for everyone:
Not everyone who voted leave wanted a hard Brexit. 52% voted leave, but not all of them would have wanted a hard Brexit. 48 % voted Remain. Only a minority wants Hard Brexit. That means the majority of people don't want a Hard Brexit. But it looks like we're getting a Hard Brexit whether we like it or not. This is democracy. This is May’s meritocracy: everyone will have to accept Brexit without complaint. As her last words at the conference eerily reverberate around in my head: “Come with me and together let’s seize the day.”