Theresa May would like us all to believe that she and the government offer “strong and stable leadership”. In reality, her plans could be said to be falling apart as she indulges in a fantasy of Britain as a world superpower able to dictate its terms to our closest neighbours and beyond in regards to trade. What we have is a political circus where no one knows which act will get star billing. The lion tamer, May, projects strength but does little to convince that her policies couldn’t be ripped apart. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Philip Hammond, and David Davis have their own side shows ranging from the talented provocateurs to the downright clownish.
It’s not unusual for politicians to wish to project strength. Strong leadership is currently the fad for many populist politicians around the globe, giving rise the new phrase “authoritarian populism”. Strength was the byword of the recent Turkish referendum in which President Erdogan was granted sweeping new powers. Yet Erdogan’s victory was only narrow (only 51.4% for “Yes”) with the media here in the UK quick to report that the result could be challenged. Of course, the same media rarely make the case for challenging another recent referendum. Like the Referendum here, Turkey saw wide discrepancies between the metropolitan areas and the regions. The districts containing Turkey’s three largest cities all voted against the president in the same way that the cities tended to vote Remain.
“Strength”, then, seems to depend on who is projecting it.
Naturally, there will be some who say we are a stable democracy with safeguards. This can lead to apathy, especially when the electorate already feel that there has been “too much politics going on”, as Brenda from Bristol recently put it. The reality is that anti-Brexit sentiment haven’t gone away, despite all that Mrs May would like us to believe.
For example, I was present this week at the launch of a new group, Liverpool for Europe, which reflects the level of opposition to Brexit in the region. Walking towards the CoWorkz on Brunswick Street near the city’s famous waterfront, I saw the EU blue flag prominently displayed. Professor Michael Dougan, from the University of Liverpool, was the invited speaker for the evening. A professor of EU Law, Dougan has seen his following grow since the vote in June. His online videos have views running into the millions and he has been invited to speak all over the country. It’s understandable why. Dougan doesn’t mince his words, calling May’s government “viciously antidemocratic”. Brexiteers, he contends, are still “fighting the campaign over and over” and not preparing the country for what lies ahead.
There is a natural wish among the pro-Brexit camp that the opposition would simply vanish. There is also confusion as to what a new Conservative majority would mean. A low turnout this Thursday reflects the apathy of many and, perhaps, the enthusiasms of a few. It seems as much a condemnation of Corbyn under Labour as it does about Brexit under May. Corbyn has also been greatly criticised for not fighting enough for remaining in the European Union, with many feeling like he is not opposing the Conservatives enough. The number of young voters registering could yet be a headache for the Tories.
It already looks like Theresa May called this election before we begin to feel the real pain and uncertainty associated with leaving the EU. Meant to be a moment of strength, it increasingly looks like an acknowledgement of weakness.