I have a theory.
Theresa May is actually a magician. Not actually magic, mind, but a magician – a master of trickery and sleight of hand who can amaze those around them. A normal magician would do this to inspire feelings of wonder and delight to the watching crowd.
May inspires feelings of emptiness. There remains a faint echo of the fury, sadness and despair that used to fill the void, but through her mystical ways she has removed all of these to be left with nothing.
No joy, no despair, no hate, no love… just… nothing.
What May achieved this week was nothing short of spectacular. At every turn, she tried to manipulate MPs from both her own party and across the House of Commons only to have her schemes spectacularly backfire. Over the last three days she:
- Tried to force the attorney general to say that her deal had changed, only for him to say that it hadn’t;
- Pushed her deal for a second time to the House, threatening that it was the only option aside from no-deal, only to see it savagely voted down with huge rebellion from her own party;
- Promised a free vote about no-deal and campaigned to vote against it, only to change her mind when the motion was amended to be permanent, not just regarding the 29th of March;
- Tried to whip her party to follow this new strategy in a blind panic, only to see one cabinet member resign and four abstain, a plethora of MPs ignore her, and then suffer the indignity of seeing her own motion against no-deal passed against her wishes;
- And saw her own Brexit Minister, Steve Barclay, argue passionately in favour of the government’s position to extend Article 50 only to then immediately vote against it.
All of these ludicrously hilarious examples of how shit her leadership is are set against a backdrop of someone desperately clinging on to power and totally ignoring the fact that they have a laughably small amount of power left. It is almost Shakespearean in how overwhelmingly sad it has been watching someone who started with a reasonable amount of promise slowly lose everything: first her integrity, then her party, then her dignity, then finally her own voice.
Do not get me wrong – she is by no means the only villain in this tragi-farce. Corbyn has been relentlessly dire, failing to form any kind of coherent opposition over the last two years and failing to seize the initiative over the last couple of days against what must be the single most divided party in Parliamentary history.
The red-faced schemers of the ERG must also share a huge amount of blame. They have constantly been a thorn in the side of an admittedly already-limping PM and have skewed the argument to the realms of the nigh-on fascistic. Their attempts to manipulate proceedings is nothing short of Machiavellian.
Yet the fact of the matter remains that over the last few weeks, months and years we have been subjected to a leader that must be one of the most lacking in actual leadership ever seen in Britain. May’s dogged determination to hammer through her deal by smashing it through a brick wall head-first would almost be admirable if it wasn’t so damaging.
At no point has she proactively attempted to seek any kind of cross-party alliance or even engagement to try and find some common ground for moving forward. Her only strategy has been her deal, which she fought so hard to get and remains so proud of despite it being fatally flawed in the backstop. It’s like a beaming mother showing you her newborn baby, only she hasn’t realised that it’s actually a dog.
Invoking Article 50 despite having done absolutely no planning as to how much time the country would need put far too short a time-frame on one of the most complicated political negotiations in history. And then, somehow, she managed to do seemingly fuck-all until December last year, where she finally, finally got the deal!
When the criticisms came in, it must have hurt her, hard. But then she had every opportunity to realise that her way was wrong, to be conciliatory, to recognise that there must be a different way, whether that be a softer Brexit, Norway Plus or a Second Referendum.
(As a quick aside, I am forcing myself to believe that no-deal was never (and still isn’t) a real option but just a negotiating tactic. If I thought, for one moment, that our government would actively vote to make its own people poorer, especially the most vulnerable, then I think I would probably go and move to the US. At least their leader ruins everything by accident.)
All she has done is ignore everyone. Her enemies, her critics, her allies, everyone. Still she marches on with this deal. STILL she tries to flog it like the last used-car in the lot at 4.55pm on a Friday afternoon, despite it causing the biggest loss on a policy vote in history the first time round, then smashed to bits again the second.
To reiterate, there will be a third vote on the deal next Wednesday. If it passes, then we leave at the end of June but no-one is happy about it, not even Brexiteers. If it fails, we start to explore other options. Oh wait, sorry: we start to explore other options nine days before we legally leave the EU, and with no promise of them granting us an extension.
It’s not a farce anymore. It’s a genuine scandal.
- The Leavers are furious at how their vision has been disrespected,
- The Remainers are furious at not being allowed a say now that we know what damage Brexit will do to our country,
- The Conservatives are split in two,
- British businesses are leaving,
- The pound is all over the place,
- And with just over two weeks to go we still have no idea what the future holds.
And yet, despite how furious I should feel over this, I just feel empty. That’s the magic of May’s tenure, somehow managing to destroy everything she touches and yet just continuing as though nothing has happened. After enough time, it just means that she is so devoid of self-awareness that criticising or opposing her simply doesn’t matter any more.
Where there should be fury, there’s just emptiness.