By Morak Babajide-Alabi
Let’s get this right from the start. Writing about the political longevity or otherwise, of Theresa May, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is becoming more of a gamble nowadays. One moment, by media reports, you had thought she is a goner. The next you are staring at her picture and literally saying “sorry Thessy, there is no redemption for you.”
In all these, you wished to laugh derisively, then remembered what was written about this woman, some months ago. Your mind wanders far back into the closing months of 2017, after her calamitous showing at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester. Not a few party men and women shied away from openly expressing their desire for May to be gone by last Christmas.
May survived the prognostication and had continued to push on, although, no longer on a sure footing (she actually lost this at the ill-advised June 8, 2017, snap elections). The consequence of this is the continued threat to her Premiership within and outside her party, and beyond the shores of the United Kingdom.
Each time this happened, you got a bowl of popcorn, a pair of 3D glasses and positioned yourself in a vantage seat at the “theatre” expecting the fireworks to go off. It always ended in disappointment as the only show on display time after time has been the same set of people on national television talking about how bad May is for the UK. Your initial thoughts that they were smart politicians were gone as you realised that they have only one story to sell – opposition to May. They have nothing beyond the usual huffs and puffs of antagonists.
It is easy for one to believe these “May will soon be gone” reports. With the intensity, you would conclude that the PM was a mere walking dead. You sympathised, thinking May’s misfortune should not be a source of joy. But you quickly realised that in politics, all is game. It is a case of numbers and nothing else.
Apart from the opposition figures whose main duty is planning how to unseat the government in power, a few names are now easily associated with “stalling” Mrs May. Boris Johnson, the former Foreign Secretary, David Davis, the former BREXIT secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg, a member of parliament and a few others seemed to have sworn an oath of no rest until May is pushed out of 10 Downing Street. They have found a common cause in UK’s exit negotiation out of the EU.
In all these dramas you searched for the gains of a May government. Maybe she is better chased off than stay. You closed your eyes for a few minutes trying to recollect the “great works” of the woman once likened to the great Margaret Thatcher. You struggled through the noises in your head, as you charted a success path for her. You recollected she was a two-term Home Secretary in the government of David Cameron.
What was that great “thing” May did as the Home Secretary? Not much of headline news other than her infamous comment on immigrants who took the perilous Mediterranean Sea route to Europe. In the midst of the EU’s attempt to resettle the immigrants, she had said: “the UK will not participate in a mandatory system of resettlement or relocation.” Another “success” was under her watch hundreds of Windrush immigrants were delivered deportation orders instead of British citizenships.
Eyes still shut for maximal concentration, you tried to give her credit for successes since she became the Prime Minister. Immigration? NHS winter crises? Rail shambles? Police Cuts? Austerity measures? Teachers’ strikes? BREXIT? Getting a little bit dizzy from this now and you had to give up the fruitless attempt.
Just as you opened your eyes, vision still blurred, you gazed at the television screen in front of you and saw the image of a woman shuffling on the stage of a conference hall. You blinked rapidly to get a good and clear vision restored on time so as to confirm that the woman on the screen was whom you think it was. Yes, it was the PM May waltzing to the music of ABBA.
You thought to yourself, but May is not a good dancer. It was not much of a dance, though, but it was a big improvement on what we witnessed on her recent visit to Africa. This time around she was shuffling, moving her head up and down and at the same time waving her arms. What a combination these were?
An inner voice cautioned not to be too hard on this woman. Considering the political pressure on her, she could have wobbled in on to the stage, with shaky legs and out of breath, and cough through her time on the podium. Give it to May, stiff or not, her appearance at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham last week was far better than last year’s.
Her adversaries, in or outside the conference venue, were probably praying she missed her step and fall flat on her face. They might be thinking it could end the moving forward of the BREXIT Chequers plan. May could not be unaware of these thoughts. So she not only had to avoid a repeat of the disaster of 2017, but she also had to rubbish the plans of her loudest critic – Boris Johnson.
He had spoken a day at a fringe event at the same conference and won over a few new supporters. May had to outshine Johnson by all means. Apart from standing up for her BREXIT policies and premiership, she knew she had to do something to show her as a human to the public. Still wondering why she danced so hard?
Johnson did not hold back as he tore apart the Chequers plan of the Prime Minister. He said it would be such a “mistake for us to leave on the Chequers terms, locked in the tractor beam of Brussels. We will not only be prevented from offering our tariff schedules, we will be unable to make our own laws, to vary our regulatory framework for goods, agri foods and much much more besides.”
Surprisingly May’s team got it right this time around. Not much was said in return to the disparaging remarks of Johnson on the BREXIT plans. You would have thought she advance reasons why Johnson’s remark of “this is the moment, this is the moment to do that – and there is time – to chuck Chequers” should not be taken seriously.
She instead used the conference to reach out, especially to party members, calling on them to come together to be seen as a party of the people to defeat the Labour Party. She realised that it will take more than dancing to the music of ABBA to get the people in tow at the next elections. As a result, among other plans, she announced that austerity will be over after BREXIT, locals councils will be empowered to build more houses for the future.
As it is, May’s political future will be determined by the success or failure of the BREXIT negotiations. The months are turning into weeks, while the weeks will quickly turn into days and May will have nowhere to run or hide. It will soon be what goes around comes around.
As written for the Diaspora Matters column, Sunday Vanguard, October 7, 2018.