Save me from strong and stable leadership
Did Theresa May coin the phrase on a mountain in Wales or did it come to mind as she stepped out of Downing street a fortnight ago today to spring her surprise election? Beware of anyone who tells you they are strong.
Or were darker forces at play? Is ‘strong and stable’ a carefully constructed coda worked out to appeal to voters and churned out at every opportunity. It has been calculated that a Conservative politician mentions this quality every eighteen seconds. Constant repetition will eventually allow voters to appreciate strengths of the leader and only news junkies like me are sick of it already.
Does it stack up? Has Theresa May shown much S&S so far? Only last week, the government was forced by the courts to publish its long delayed air pollution strategy. Air pollution causes 64 premature deaths a day. This was an example of a government running scared of the motor industry and of car owners, like me, who mistakenly thought diesel was better for the environment. That’s cowardly and collusive leadership.
Only a couple of months ago, the courts also ruled against Theresa May’s plans to trigger Article 50 which smacked of arrogant and authoritarian leadership. It is no wonder that she is being referred to as Kim Jong May.
Then there was the U turn on national insurance contributions for the self employed and the amazing volte face in calling a general election and ditching the well intentioned fixed term parliament Act. Shame on the Opposition for going along with it.
This deceit has tarnished the image of the vicar’s daughter and National Trust member who is on the side of the ordinary working family. A more devious and calculating character is emerging who wants to banish legitimate opposition and, as the Daily Mail puts it, ‘crush the saboteurs’.
The most serious lack of leadership has been the hapless way in which the government has handled Brexit. It has lacked a plan and failed to listen to its European partners. It really is fake news for Theresa May to proclaim that the country is united behind her in wanting to be bumped out of Europe.
But even if, for the sake of argument, I allow the claim of strong leadership, is this the direction in which I want to be lead? This is a government cutting welfare benefits, building grammar schools, reducing green energy subsidies, scrapping the Human Rights Act, cutting inheritance tax for the rich, renewing Trident, failing to honour commitments to child refugees and bringing back fox hunting. It is not dealing with the housing crisis or the social care crisis.
There is talk of the Tories relaxing the triple lock . We pensioners have been let off too lightly because our votes matter. There is a hint from the Chancellor that he may not renew the silly ban on tax increases. We middle classes have been wrapped in cotton wool for too long as well. Both good ideas but will the manifestoes tell us where the money will be coming from? Don’t hold your breath.
The Labour Party has been churning out policies day after day. That is what politics used to be about. They may not capture the imagination but they take sensible steps on housing, education and jobs. Keir Starmer made an honourable attempt to explain Labour’s position on Brexit but could have given more hope to Remainers and allowed space for a second referendum.
These are extraordinary times and I am actually attracted by the so called ‘coalition of chaos’ if it means that different parties get together to return members who will challenge the draconian view of Brexit that a May government seems bound to pursue. Caroline Lucas should be waved back in.
Theresa May does not give us her vision for the future or even a set of policies for the next government. Her one new idea of capping energy bills was pinched from Ed Miliband. She will not debate in public or meet real voters. But she will provide strong and stable leadership, which, as everyone knows, is her way of telling us that Jeremy Corbyn is not up to the job.
When Jezza was elected the first time around, I was excited that some of my more cherished political ideals might be fulfilled. This is the man who has been on the right side of every major argument for the past quarter century, from apartheid to nuclear weapons, arms sales, railway ownership, animal rights, cannabis and even the poor old royal family. He is the street protestors hero.
I am disappointed by his inability to manage the Labour Party and sorry that he is lukewarm about Europe. The Tory jibes are despicable but funnily enough, a “muddle headed mugwump” is not far off the mark. Jeremy Corbyn is an honest, thoughtful, independently minded vegetarian who is likely to mull things over and unlikely to push a button in haste. He cares about real people, refuses to slag off his opponents and is sartorially relaxed, These are the qualities I look for in a leader.
But more important, he is doing his best to lead a party in the direction I want to go and it is policies rather than personalities that matter.
Published in Newcastle Journal Tues 2nd May