Sunday, 30 October 2016

Mrs May's Mistakes

Theresa May had an easy route to becoming Prime Minister, easily beating the toxic threesome of Brexiteers: Liam Fox, Andrea Leadsom and Michael Gove, to win the nomination from Tory MPs without requiring the final vote from party members. She has continued to receive a largely favourable press, gained partly by having been a lukewarm remain supporter whilst now sounding like an enthusiastic Brexit campaigner, whatever that means.

Her utterances on gaining office were both surprising and promising following the elitist austerity policies of Cameron and Osborne.

Theresa May speaking after becoming Prime Minister
"The Government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few but by you.
We won't entrench advantages of the fortunate few. We will do everything to help you go as far as our talents can take you. We must fight the burning injustices. We must make Britain a country that works for everyone.We believe in a union not just between the nations of the UK but between all of our citizens - every one of us."

However the promise of an era of egalitarian decision making is now beginning to look threadbare. Her decision to appoint three ministers, David Davis, Liam Fox, and Boris Johnson to take collective charge of Brexit is seriously flawed. All of them have egos that trump their abilities and they seem unwilling or incapable of acting in concert. Brexit would be hard to do even without it being a hard Brexit.

She then installed or retained some of the least respected MPs as senior ministers. Amber Rudd, Jeremy Hunt and Andrea Leadsom have reputations that were already shredded before taking up, or in the case of Hunt retaining, key cabinet posts. Just watch the conspicuous disdain from their own backbenches when they speak in parliament.

She has managed to lose any goodwill from the three devolved governments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, who seem increasingly frustrated by the lack of any genuine consultation about their involvement in negotiations over Brexit.

And then she has given the go ahead to three mega infrastructure projects: Hinkley Point, HS2 and Heathrow that defy economic, environmental and social evidence or sense. This was tersely summed up by Simon Jenkins in an article that questioned the capability of Mrs May's government to make rational decisions.

Meanwhile in the real world, the PM has declared that the future of Education requires the rebirth of grammar schools as well as the continued growth of academies, the NHS continues to miss targets with Jeremy Hunt showing every sign of this being a softening up for more privatisation, and there is no sign of any attempt to increase the stock of social housing, although I did see an article that the government are contemplating the return of pre fabs.

The majority of the right wing press are in denial about any damage being incurred by the Brexit vote. This despite Mrs May being allowed to only attend the most recent EU leaders meeting after midnight to give a 5 minute speech, which was then ridiculed by some of her colleague national political leaders.

The £ has dropped to a 31 year low against other currencies, falling 22% from the day before the referendum. The government's refrain is that it will make it easier for the UK to export its goods and services, although so far the trade balance deficit has increased. The government and the press also claim that inflation hasn't increased significantly so far. It soon will. Inelastic items of expenditure like petrol, Marmite and Apple computers have all gone up by between 12% and 20% in recent days.

The Resolution foundation chaired by ex Tory Minister, David Willetts, has warned of the dire consequences of the deterioration of public finances since the referendum. This will impact on those on lowest incomes. The minimum wage will be reduced, benefits are already being cut and inflation is set to soar in the new year when the full impact of the falling pound will impact most on those whom Mrs May defined as 'just managing'.

Mrs May has displayed her talent for doing damage in triplicate so far. The consequences are dire in almost all areas. She has got away with it by virtue of the 'political honeymoon of new PMs' but as Gordon Brown could tell her it doesn't last long. Her party are in a flagrant civil war not only over Brexit but grammar schools, disability benefits, bankers, energy policy, immigration and now Heathrow with Zac Goldsmith carrying out his threat to resign and restand as an independent.

On occasions like this it is usually the case that the official opposition provides alternative options but in these troubled times the Labour Party is more intent in continuing with its own internal conflict. The Lib Dems are seizing their chance to regain some credibility following their disastrous coalition years and the Greens want to collaborate with the other alleged "progressive" parties but are drawing a blank. This is surely the time for an axis of enlightened politics from the other political parties, after all the Tory vote was only 24% of the registered electorate in 2015, and that was a high water-mark before the disenchantment with Cameron and the irreconcilable split amongst the MPs.

In parliament this week Mrs May was showing signs of being rattled at PM questions by Jeremy Corbyn, not something that has worried either her or David Cameron in the past. I suspect that she knows that the months and years ahead are destined to be devilishly difficult with many unpopular decisions to be taken and some votes to be lost. I hope, but with little confidence, that her pledges   about 'fighting the burning injustices' and 'making Britain work for everyone' will not be abandoned as she tries to triangulate the competing pressures from Europe, her party, a slowing economy and the aspirations of those just managing. 

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