This morning, we’re told that the absence of Theresa May from last night’s leaders debate was a very good thing. When challenged with the suggestion that such a show of weakness could make Brexit negotiations harder, Boris said ‘Donnez moi un break’ which translates as one shake of his blonde mob and a cheeky look to camera. In other words: there was no weakness to be seen. It allowed May to ‘rise’ above the tumult, to prove that she’s Prime Ministerial by not getting involved in an ugly shouting match.
All of which is, in words that I’m sure Boris will understand, a great steaming pile of well-chundered clack.
The absence of the Conservative leader might well have been the wise choice given woeful campaign performances whenever she’s put under pressure but it did not make for a positive outcome. Amber Rudd performed well, especially given her father’s death earlier in the week, but it did little to disguise the crisis in the Tory campaign. May called this election from a position of strength but is now chasing a receding tide. It’s like she had spent the last year boasting of a 5 star cruise around Paradise and was then spotted stranded with a caravan on a minor road into Skegness. May has surprisingly proved to be a stumbling, shaky, and somewhat stuttering performer who clearly doesn’t enjoy being challenged on hard topics. She already seems to have about her that delusion that she is above the questions of the common herd; a delusion that affects most Prime Ministers but usually at the end of a long residency in Downing Street and not at the beginning.
Reporters from the front line of this election already speak of the controlled environment of Tory hustings (if, indeed, that word can still be applied to something so brazenly manipulated). The Prime Minister doesn’t gain any credit (and nor should she) by insulating herself from dissent. Elections exist in order to address dissent; one group of people dissent about the way the country is being run and offer an alternative. To somehow dismiss the nature of this disagreement is so very modern and probably down to the media listening to what 17 year olds say when asked about their opinion about politics. ‘Lots of people shouting,’ they’ll answer based on some vague impression of the House of Commons gained whilst surfing the channels towards Spongehead Slickslacks or whatever the hell they watch.
Well, if you’ll excuse me, screw the teenagers with their profound worldview based on Youtube clips of friends supergluing their ears to ceiling fans. They affect a maturity that is anything but. They assume that being mature is about being calm and thoughtful when, in truth, the opposite tends to happen. The notion of the professional and totally in control politician is precisely why politics is in such a bad place. Politicians have for too long been trying to live up to the high ideals of teenagers with earlobes shaped like a melted Bond villain or the vox populi of the ignorant and ill informed. It wrongly skews debates, leaving passionate politics to those on the fringes, where Nigel Farage becomes all swollen and red faced about an issue and seem like he cares ever so much more than some pasty-faced fellow with a limp smile and all the energy of a dried yam.
Last night’s leaders debate was indeed chaotic and sometimes it was hard to hear what they were saying but, from where I sat, it also felt like the first real moment of this election. It was trying to break out of the stale format and become what debates should be: organic and shaped by people’s passions roused by ideas and arguments. There’s a tendency among journalists to get sniffy about politics once it turns heated but the antithesis to this is politics that are cold and passionless. That is the politics currently being practised by Theresa May and is precisely why her campaign has stalled going into the last week.
At some point, May has become seduced by the idea that politicians should never be challenged and, more importantly, not judged on their rambling, meaningless answers to questions. Speaking to the Plymouth Herald this week, May was asked ‘Plymouth is feeling the effects of military cuts. Will she guarantee to protect the city from further pain?’ Her reported answer: ‘I’m very clear that Plymouth has a proud record of connection with the armed forces.’
You’ll notice that what she’s very ‘clear’ about is something that has nothing to do with the question or anything that remotely resembles a reasonable answer. The Herald’s reporter, Sam Blackledge, described it as ‘Three minutes of nothing’. If you extrapolated those three minutes over the past few weeks, you’d have the sum total of Theresa May’s election campaign and why this morning victory can no longer be assured. British politics deserves better than this and, whether you agree with them or not, the Conservative Party deserves better than this.