‘Can I just point out,’ Hannah Jane Parkinson wrote in a widely shared tweet during the Conservative Party Conference, ‘that Theresa May is wearing a bracelet of Frida Kahlo, a member of the Communist party who LITERALLY DATED TROTSKY.’ The Telegraph, though not without making a joke of it, pointed out some of the similarities between the prime minister and the late Mexican artist: their feminism, for example, and their fortitude. Any reference to communism must surely have been a ‘pointed message’ to Jeremy Corbyn, whom the paper styled as an apologist for Trotsky.
The post-election deal, between a dogmatic and narrow sect in the grips of a 17th-century mindset and the DUP, isn't a full-scale plighting of troths. It's more of a fling, for confidence and supply, between the Nasty Party and their Ulster brethren – devotees of the summer's glorious twelfths, when they have fun socking it to grouse (August) and nationalists (July). Each party remains hostage to its own contradictions. The Tories' lie between their laissez-faire ideologue Brexiters, whose holy of holies is free trade, and little Englander nativists, miffed that the wogs now start before Calais. The DUP's voter base, like everyone in Northern Ireland, depends on open borders with the republic, but its ideology covets a Brexit yet more rejectionist than that of many a gin-sozzled Tory backwoodsman.
It’s said that British prime ministers are either bookies or vicars. Some are determinately one or the other, while others think they are the one while being the other. Tony Blair was a bookie who thought he was a vicar. Theresa May – like Gordon Brown, the child of a minister – talks like a vicar and behaves like a bookie. People will talk about May 'gambling' on an early poll, but the point about bookies is that they don't gamble, but play the percentages. In announcing a snap election for 8 June, May will have calculated that, for the Tories, things can’t get any better. Current polls have them around 20 per cent ahead of Labour. May is set to win by a country mile.
In the last month Theresa May has given striking evidence of a tilt towards Binyamin Netanyahu and Israel. On 29 December, her spokesman sharply criticised a major speech by John Kerry, who was signing off after years of labouring for an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. He had told some home truths about the Netanyahu government, describing the current coalition as the most right-wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements. Asked by the BBC whether he was surprised by May’s reaction, Kerry said: ‘What I expressed in the speech has been the policy of Great Britain for a long period of time … An honest answer is yes.’
Melanie McDonagh wrote in the Spectator on Saturday that she wanted Theresa May to be prime minister 'because she’s a vicar’s daughter’. The Mail made a similar point in its Gove-crushing endorsement a week earlier: ‘A vicar’s daughter, she is not a member of the privileged classes, but had to make her own way in the world.’ Publications in Germany and the United States have been quick to point out that this is something May has in common with Angela Merkel – while a few closer to home have wondered whether Gordon Brown, the son of a Church of Scotland minister, is the more relevant comparison. I’m a vicar’s son.
Reactions to the Chilcot Report suggest that the only remaining argument for the Iraq War is that criticism rests on hindsight. Tony Blair explained that he invaded the country 'in good faith', as if that somehow excuses the catastrophe that followed. General Sir Mike Jackson shrugged off responsibility for British soldiers blown up in inadequately armoured vehicles by observing that their fate was unforeseeable: ‘we'll never know,’ he said, if any died unnecessarily. Listening to the deflections of blame, I was reminded of a scholar whose work Tony Blair has long admired. Philip Bobbitt warned in 2004 that the war's critics were making a basic philosophical error. He called it ‘Parmenides' Fallacy’: the mistaken attempt to assess a situation 'by measuring it against the past, as opposed to comparing it to other possible present states of affairs’. The argument sounded clever when I first read it, but not for long.
Did the politics of motherhood destroy Andrea Leadsom’s bid to be Britain’s next prime minister? Only last week, some Tory diehards were describing her as a new Margaret Thatcher, a figure to restore the soul of Conservatism and secure the nation’s future outside the European Union. Then, on Saturday, she told the Times that being a mother gave her a ‘stake in the future’ which her childless opponent, Theresa May, lacked. Roundly criticised by party colleagues as well as enemies, Leadsom backpedalled, first declaring she had been misquoted and demanding a retraction from the newspaper, then admitting she had ‘misspoken’ and issuing a sorrowful apology to May. She made no mention of the affair when she announced her withdrawal from the race today, but it seems inconceivable that Leadsom would have dropped out had she never made those comments. Talking about the way motherhood shapes political sensibilities used to be simpler.
Theresa May looks set to be Britain's second female prime minister, now that Andrea Leadsom has quit the Tory leadership race. It would be wrong to hail this as a victory for feminism. May's record as home secretary suggests that her government would be especially punitive for women at the bottom of the socioeconomic spectrum, or with precarious migration status.
In 2011, Theresa May told the Conservative Party Conference that the Human Rights Act needed to be restricted. One of the examples she gave of its alleged excesses was an ‘illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because – and I am not making this up – he had a pet cat’. Except she was making it up, or at least grossly exaggerating one small part of a case into its entire rationale. In March 2013, she created another stir by suggesting that the next Tory election manifesto should include a promise to dump the European Court of Human Rights. This forced old school Conservatives such as Kenneth Clarke to defend the Strasbourg body – which was just what she wanted, as it would make them more unpopular with Europhobic Tory voters, while boosting her own Eurosceptic credentials. May’s speech on Brexit earlier this week needed some xenophobic noise to camouflage her pro-EU stance in the referendum campaign; human rights were once again her target.