Well I mean it just wouldn’t be British, would it?
Seven weeks ago, Theresa called an election in order to get a ringing endorsement of her policy on Brexit. She should have known that ringing endorsements are quite simply not a part of the British mentality. Praise does not come easily to a nation renowned for subtlety and understatement.
If she’d looked back through her history books then the warning signs were there. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you how a grateful nation thanked Churchill for steering it through the rocky waters of global conflict. In 1945 he went to the polls expecting the country to reward him with a resounding majority. They sacked him.
Praise is not a British virtue and our language reflects this. Consider the phrase “not bad”. Depending on the context it can mean anything from very, very good: “I tell you what, this Chablis isn’t half bad!” right through to borderline appalling: “How’s the soup darling?” “Mmm…not bad…”
On the scale of euphemisms, Theresa’s election campaign falls one notch lower than “not bad”. For the most part, it “could have been better” — as she backed away from engaging with the public or with her political opponents — and there were times when it descended into the realms of being downright “interesting”. She really shouldn’t have posed for the camera eating fish and chips. If she really fancied a treat then she should have waited until she got home. I’m sure Philip would have driven out and got her some.
On the other side of the scale, her main opponent fought a campaign that was one notch higher than “not bad”. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn turned in a series of performances that were “alright” and even a couple that were “pretty good”.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to heap too much praise on him –it’s not that I think he’s “top whole” or anything like that. A lot of his stuff is “interesting” to say the least. But, like Clement Attlee when he took on Churchill in 1945, he has provided real alternatives in the face of a single-issue government.
So where do we go from here? Senior Conservatives tend to use a different set of euphemisms to the rest of us. The play’s the thing with them: Politicians are frustrated actors. Curtains for the PM –her performances were wooden and she delivered her lines like a preacher rather than an actress. “Get her off the stage before the critics shut us down” they will be saying.
Time for a new script: Hamlet or Lear or Macbeth or Richard II preferably, something where daggers are sharpened behind the scenes and suitors hover around a dying king. Exit Theresa. Enter Boris Johnson stage right, dressed in black, his back hunched, his withered hand clutching a rapier.
The term “regicide” has already been used by one senior minister and others may follow. Before the election, Theresa talked of “strength and stability”; yesterday she was promising stability only. She has been wounded and weakened, the circling dogs smell blood. Thatcher went this way, taking a bite here and a scratch there until the pack had the upper hand and moved in for the kill.
It’s impossible to avoid comparisons to Margaret Thatcher. Like Maggie, Theresa is an English nationalist who assumes that the rest of Britain is ungovernable and therefore not worth bothering about. Throw them a bone now and again and then forget about them. Rule from the centre, old girl. Don’t go to the Celts, let the Celts come to you.
Her campaign in Scotland typified the superficiality with which she addressed the nation as a whole. One of the most “interesting” moments of her campaign has to be her speech in a secret location in Aberdeenshire to a hand-picked audience and a TV camera. Maybe she thought that ordinary Scots might bite her or give her fleas before voting for the Nationalists anyway but either way you sense she wasn’t really trying.
Her attitude to Scotland was half-hearted; characterised by clichés plagiarised from Abraham Lincoln asking Scots to choose between the British Union and the European one. Job done, boxes ticked, back down to London for tea.
A pity really because the Scottish Tories did “quite a decent” job in terms of winning seats for her. Rumour has it that Scottish Conservatives are “not displeased” with their party’s showing — whereas senior figures in the Scottish National Party are “a wee bit disappointed”.
Meanwhile in Wales, Labour activists and Welsh nationalists are stating quite confidently that they “mustn’t grumble” — some of them are even “quite satisfied”.
Hopefully, Theresa has learned that it’s not enough to win England. Sometimes the tail will wag the dog. And so she turns to Northern Ireland. Not quite a pact with the devil — the Democratic Unionist Party are nothing if not God-fearing Protestants — but a Faustian agreement nonetheless.
We don’t know exactly what their terms will be but presumably she’ll have to change her name to something less Catholic. One “Mother Theresa” is quite enough. She will have to preach less and listen more. Or else exit stage left.