Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
One might have thought that given both the eruption and furious reception that followed the announcement of the disastrous ‘dementia tax’ policy during last year’s general election campaign, Theresa May would have become more practised in the art of knowing her audience, and selling her product right. However, after reading the prime minister’s article in last week’s Guardian, aimed at persuading wavering Labour voters over to her cause, we learn a few fatal flaws in the character of Mrs May. Perhaps most striking is that May does not have the answer to the Conservatives’ chronic identity crisis, and that she is blind to the current state of her nation.
May opens her article with a promising tone, setting out a stall for her vision: ‘I want the Conservatives to be a party for the whole country’. Clearly, as in the headline of her article (‘[…] the Tory party, here for the many’), the prime minister is intent on either parodying or mocking Jeremy Corbyn’s slogan of last year’s general election campaign, ‘for the many, not the few’. Neither of these aims quite succeed: traditional Labour voters will be naturally adverse to the nature of the economic recovery of the last eight years, and will find the claim that the Conservatives can govern for ‘the whole country’ beyond entirely laughable. If May is trying to win over a demographic naturally hostile to her party, claiming that ‘we have brought our economy back from the brink’ is not the way to do it when Labour voters will enthusiastically remind her that during this recovery, wages have stagnated, debt has doubled, and homelessness and food bank usage has rocketed.
May knows that there are successes worthy of pride achieved during her premiership, not least the continued plummeting of unemployment. This is why Labour voters will cringe at May’s claim that she is ‘investing in our NHS, to secure it for the future’. Time and time again, polling has consistently shown that Labour is more trusted by voters to properly fund the NHS – election after election the main parties play political ping-pong with it, each promising record investment, but no matter how impressive the number pledged by the Tories, health is still a toxic topic for them. If Theresa May is seeking to win over swing voters, she should avoid it like the plague.
Not content with alienating a majority of her readership, May also engages in hypocrisy whilst discrediting her opponent’s leadership. Under Corbyn, she explains, ‘[a]ntisemitism has grown’, which is ‘alien to Labour’s best traditions’. If May wants to discuss ignorant leadership, perhaps she could reference Baroness Warsi’s claims of widespread Islamophobia in the Conservatives election fraud scandal. The point is, it is difficult for voters to distinguish between levels of incompetence within the party leadership at present, and May should avoid the crass personal smears which she makes in her article. Rather she should be engaging with her party’s genuine, material achievements over the past eight years, therefore presenting a coherent image for a great British future under her leadership.
Yet May continues to direct her readers down a path of not only ad hominem mud-slinging, but also one made up of distracting and delaying techniques in order to put off having to identify a true vision for post-Brexit Britain. For May, she sees it as sufficient to offer an ‘energy price cap [which]will stop loyal customers paying unfair prices’. This is unbelievably small-fry from a prime minister presiding over the most important negotiation in nearly a century, not least when savvy Labour voters will not have forgotten that this is a policy pinched from Ed Miliband’s 2015 manifesto.
Theresa May cannot please anybody right now, let alone ‘the whole country’. When she claims to ‘believe that the principles that guide us […] can unite our people’, most people will believe her. Characteristically, Mrs May is not distinctly unlikeable, with many on Labour’s front bench even expressing sympathy for her position. As much as her article is a pitch to Labour voters, it is also a pitch to her own party – to the toxic figures of Rees-Mogg and Johnson who refuse to get in line and support her. But this will not win anyone over – there is a confused message in this article, and when the prime minister writes that she is confident she can secure ‘a good Brexit deal for Britain’, her backbenchers will laugh at what they perceive to be her soft, compromising approach. Labour voters will laugh too, humouring her her harsh, extreme negotiating style. Ultimately neither group trust her to strike any deal at all, let alone a ‘good’ one.
Theresa May’s position as prime minister is looking increasingly untenable, and if her article sought to secure her job at least until the Brexit negotiations are over, it has most certainly done the opposite by exposing her unwisely transient and incoherent policy positions whilst unashamedly telling her readers that they do not care for ‘ideology’, as if they are a bunch of egotistical lemmings seeking only short-term gain. The prime minister is playing a losing game, and her article, whilst seeking to hide her woes, humiliatingly exposes them.
Read Theresa May’s full Guardian article here: