Jack George

Naked Politics Blogger 

“That means fighting against the burning injustice that if you are born poor, you will die on average nine years earlier than others. If you’re black, you’re treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you are white. If you’re a white, working-class boy, you’re less likely than anyone else in Britain to go to university.”

When Tories speak like this, what’s the point of the left?

Everything May said about injustice in her first speech as PM was more or less accurate. Then again, choice of topics to focus on was probably very misleading: by raising those issues, she implies she can actually solve them–not merely hear them. Seeing that she has been at the forefront of the regime she is deposing—there seems to be some disconnect between who she was then and who she is now.

Was she admitting that the Government she served as a stalwart for the past 6 years was an elitist cabal? Or is there really a closeted urban metropolitan side to her, ready to throw ideological conservatives into kale-induced panic?

Earned by what some have dubbed the ‘voluntary euthanasia’ of her rivals, Theresa May’s premiership holds no specific mandate. She is there because no one dared challenge her. She is the only person bold enough to take on the challenge of running a country devoid of purpose beyond this nebulous idea of ‘leaving.’ Therefore, her first speech could have included almost anything. It wouldn’t have mattered much. But few would have expected her to adopt an oratory stance just to the left of the now long forgotten Ed Miliband.

If she were still a student, she would probably have run into trouble for plagiarism. For the few, not the many, she said as he said that one governs in the interest of the few not the many. Her speech was inclusive, with mentions of race, gender and class equality. She appealed directly to the working poor, saying that their interests will drive her, not those of ‘a privileged few’.

In Miliband’s words: “it is not just the powerful few at the top whose voices should be heard, it’s the voice of everyone.” The resemblance in rhetoric is striking and surprising: Ed Miliband existed in fairly central, soft-left territory within the Labour Party whilst Theresa May was Home Secretary for six successive years in a right-wing government committed to cutting spending, while arguably easing the burden on the wealthiest in society.

She was also specifically anti-corporate, insisting that businesses acknowledge the duty they owe to the country that allows them to thrive. Once more, as Miliband put it: “Britain needs great entrepreneurs. But the greatest entrepreneurs recognise that they’re only as strong as their team.

But the obvious fear is that May’s anti-elitist vision could be no more than that, a vision. This is where it becomes less surprising. As the person who told her own party that it was seen as the ‘nasty party’, she is acutely aware of image and presentation. For better or worse, this is the single most important thing in politics. People believe in the idea of austerity because appeals to simple microeconomic principals: when you struggle, you spend less. People believed in the discredited lies of Brexit because it matched up with basic ideas they held about the world. Gove may have paved the way for May’s premiership by sabotaging his own and Boris’ leadership challenges, but he also confirmed the new tone of western politics: that we’ve had enough of experts. In the post-truth age of politics, leaders can say anything without fearing they’ll be held to account.

But faith in the political system is so crushingly low that this vacuous, general hope is a hell of a lot better than the ideological despair that came before her. Philip Hammond, May’s chancellor, wants to wean the country slowly off the mean tit of austerity—a feat that would take him and May again into left-wing Miliband territory.

As ever, the strength of modern UK Conservatives is not their commitment tradition but their ability to co-opt and subsequently own their rivals’ best intentions. The result being to empty the political centre-ground, at least rhetorically, forcing other parties into single-issue obsession (UKIP) or fringe perspectives (Labour under Corbyn).

Theresa May might speak the language of Miliband but she is probably just clearing the political landscape of his like.

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Last Update: April 28, 2018