Before meeting Nicola Sturgeon on Monday, Theresa May insisted she would “never allow the UK to become looser and weaker”. But how, precisely, will she accomplish that, given that Sturgeon, with considerable support from the Scottish people, intends the opposite? Of course there were no details of steps to be taken to prevent the UK falling apart because, as ever, May doesn’t do detail.
Since becoming prime minister, she has given plenty of broad-brush intentions but virtually no detailed policies: one small concrete change to national insurance contributions presented by the chancellor was hastily shelved. There have been plenty of words but what is worrying if you look closely is how few have substance.
May’s famously vacuous “Brexit means Brexit” was rightly ridiculed but it wasn’t a one-off. All her speeches shun detail and use generalised phrases instead. At last autumn’s Tory conference, her first as party leader, May promised “to build a country that truly works for everyone”. The most detailed plan she offered to achieve this was a threat to make multinationals pay their taxes. The rest was vague intentions: to help more people buy homes; to take back control over borders and decisions; to take people’s concerns seriously. Maybe this was the speech she always dreamed of giving on becoming prime minister, but the lack of detail was alarming given the national crisis in which she had inherited the leadership.
Politicians and empty rhetoric are no strangers, but May goes to a higher level. She gives the impression of having direction, delivering her words with intense breathless conviction, often reiterating principles and hopes. These can sound like plans but aren’t. Her speech to the US Republican party was full of asserted principles – “liberty”, “the dignity of work”, “nationhood”, “family”, “economic prudence”, “patriotism” – principles that “my parents taught me in the vicarage in southern England”.
But when it came to actual post-Brexit directions, it became hopes and, some may say, fantasies: “a future that sees us step up with confidence to a new, even more internationalist role, where we meet our responsibilities to our friends and allies, champion the international cooperation and partnerships that project our values around the world, and continue to act as one of the strongest and most forceful advocates for business … around the globe”. All the verbs here – “meet responsibilities”, “champion”, “project values”, “advocate”, “continue to act” – are vague and aspirational.
‘We are not afraid’: Theresa May’s statement to MPs
Some commentators find May convincing: her speech after the Westminster terrorism incident was praised as evidence of doing a good job. She painted a picture of Londoners continuing to go about their business, concluding: “It is in these actions – millions of acts of normality – that we find the best response to terrorism. A response that denies our enemies their victory. That refuses to let them win.” Which is fine since motivational speech – a general cheering up and stiffening of resolve – is what’s needed after a terrorist attack. But, applied to political plans for the huge and daunting changes that lie ahead, these bland aspirations are disturbing: “we will reassert our belief in a confident, sovereign and global Britain”; “we will build a new relationship with our friends in Europe”; “we must be strong, smart and hard-headed”; “with courage and vision and determination you can always see things through”.
May is a motivational speaker with an underlying message familiar to the disciples of the self-help circuit: believe and we can make it happen. Speaking about Martin McGuinness she said, “at the heart of it all was his profound optimism for the future of Northern Ireland – and I believe we should all hold fast to that optimism today”. So when we desperately need strategies to prevent the UK disintegrating, all the prime minister gives us is “optimism”. If you prefer to think the empty rhetoric conceals a secret strategy, just bear in mind the recent collapse of Donald Trump’s healthcare plan. It turned out there was no plan.
As with all motivational speaking the messages are often banal, and delusional. May says: “I am very clear that I want to ensure we get the best possible deal for the United Kingdom that works for everyone across the United Kingdom”. Here banal has the upper hand, since what sort of negotiator wouldn’t be looking for the “best possible deal”? When she says that she “wishes to heal the divisions of Brexit”, delusional is a polite description.
But we may be at the moment where motivational language tips into something darker: authoritarian language. May’s vague phrases hardly make sense but they are also dismissive, brooking no opposition. Opposition is seen as negative. The slide towards authoritarianism was clear in recent assertions that much of the EU legislation currently regulating our society will be changed, not by an act of parliament, but by undiscussed ministerial orders. Is this what the vacuous “taking back control” actually means? Taking back control for a government that won’t even share its intentions?
This article was sourced from http://asiaenews.com