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  Opinion   Oped  06 Oct 2018  Threatened on several fronts, Britain’s Theresa May may find it hard to survive

Threatened on several fronts, Britain’s Theresa May may find it hard to survive

Published : Oct 6, 2018, 1:59 pm IST
Updated : Oct 6, 2018, 1:59 pm IST

Theresa May, in her subsequent presentation to the conference, thrust a trishul of persuasion forward.

British Prime Minister Theresa May (Photo: AFP)
 British Prime Minister Theresa May (Photo: AFP)

“If beauty is in the eye of the beholder Is there hope for the ugly yet? The claims of perception are bolder
Than self-descriptions on the internet…” 
From Found in Mussourie, Signifying Nothing

Every autumn, the political parties of Britain hold annual conferences. It’s parliamentary recess time so most MPs and throngs of party members attend. The old Chinese saying goes “we live in interesting times”. Today in Britain the political prospects are increasingly interesting, as the response to leaving the European Union seems incrementally muddled, fuddled and fudged. Nothing else is talked about. Brexit is now the acknowledged elephant in the room.


Not only is the elephant itself confused, it has the four blind men of the parable examining it and making their pronouncements: Holding its tail, the first one says this pachyderm is a hot communications cable to the US economy, another, holding its leg, says its certainly a pillar firmly grounded in the Commonwealth, the third, holding its trunk, professes that it is a Shiv Lingam leading straight to India and the fourth, touching its broad body, says its definitely a wall to keep European immigrants out. The Tories entered their conference in a state of disarray. Poor Theresa May, the hypocrite who campaigned to remain in the European Union and switched sides when the chance to be PM arose, is now threatened on several fronts. The Tory conference, in Birmingham this year, was universally touted as a Borisfest, because Boris Johnson who recently resigned as foreign secretary published his intention to make the conference his first platform bid for the leadership of the party. 


His resignation from the Cabinet in protest against Theresa May’s “Chequers’ proposals” which she intends to put to the EU as the UK’s departure seal, was the first step he had to take. He has since then written several pieces attacking Chequers calling it Ms May’s or Britain’s “suicide vest”. 

Boris, once the editor of the Spectator and now a columnist on the Daily Telegraph is no stranger to strong language. When representatives of the business community of the UK made a statement saying that leaving the EU would be bad for business, Boris said “f*** business!”, amusing his large public following and enraging further his detractors in the Tory parliamentary party, including Theresa, who insists that Chequers will soften the Brexit blow to British businesses. Boris’ fringe meeting at the Tory conference was, consequently, the most sought-after gathering at the event. His fans lined up for hours to gain entrance and hundreds were left waiting outside. 


He denied surprise, surprise that his stance was a bid for the leadership. He said, as strategically he had to, that he was keeping faith with the 51 (something) per cent of the UK population which voted to leave the European Union. He wasn’t challenging Theresa May for the prime ministership, he was loyally telling her to ditch her plan for withdrawal from the EU as it would keep Britain half-in and half-out and be a betrayal of the will of the electorate. 

Theresa May, in her subsequent presentation to the conference, thrust a trishul of persuasion forward. She attacked Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, presenting him as the anti-semitic, Britain-hating, fantasy-economising, potentially Stalinistic despot; bankrupter of the exchequer, cheating promiser and general bogeyman who should be put in the stocks before 10 Downing Street rather than be given the keys to it. 


This insistent prong of her speech was a tribute to the fact that Mr Corbyn and his shadow chancellor John McDonnell had presented at the previous Labour conference a detailed package of policies they would implement as though they were the government-in-waiting. Their policies of nationalising the railways and energy companies, of forcing large corporations to give 10 per cent of shares and places on their governing boards to workers, of paying for childcare, stopping tax-dodgers and 20 other costly measures, threaten to be popular with the electorate, especially younger voters, whose recent enrolment in the Labour Party has increased its numbers to more than the membership of all the other political parties put together. 


Second, Theresa May made some feeble promises which could count as a domestic agenda. In the context of the major upheaval and contrariness within her own party against her Chequers proposals, they would not command the attention of Parliament, leave aside the votes of the electorate. 

Her third prong was her shameless and ill-thought-out pandering to the xenophobia of the Brexit voter. She said her Chequers proposal would enforce the ban on immigration which the majority voted for without jeopardising jobs and incomes. It is, on all calculations, including those of her own chancellor and civil servants, a lying contention. 

What she and the conference ended up promising was banning all immigrants whose earnings when they come to work in Britain would be less than £50,000. She made the very clumsy mistake of calling those who earned less than this arbitrary sum “Unskilled Workers”! 


The average wage in the UK is £26,500. So what Theresa’s government is telling 95 per cent of teachers, and perhaps 90 per cent of the population that they count, in her £142,000 wage-packet politicians’ world, as “unskilled”. That’s hardly a vote-winning classification and very many teachers, engineers, and the millions of workers in transport, in manufacture, in hospitality, in hospitals etc. would see it as an insult. 

Already the signatures for a challenge to Theresa May’s continuing leadership are being gathered. If 48 Tory MPs profess to have no confidence in her, there has to be a leadership election. The Tories are in a funk. There is such division and confusion in their party that such a challenge could lead to a general election and to Labour winning. That means she’ll probably be allowed to hang on. If not, will she resign as an MP? Will she get a job commensurate with her skills? She has got a degree in Geography from Oxford. I wonder what a first-year geography teacher’s salary is. 


Tags: theresa may, european union