On a large television screen are two men, obvious shysters by the look of them. One is large, the other small, and they have just discovered that their latest scam has worked a treat and that a lot of people have fallen for it. You would expect them to look happy about it, but they don’t – they looked shocked, miserable and out of their depth.
Ah no, sorry. Wrong picture. That’s from The Producers – Max Bialystok and Leo Bloom when they discover that Springtime for Hitler was a hit. The plan was to defraud investors by selling 25,000% of the venture and then producing a sure-fire failure. Instead, the audience loved it. I was thinking of a different fraud.
This is the picture I saw, sitting in the departure lounge at Frankfurt Airport on the morning of 24 June 2016, the day we all learnt of the Brexit Referendum result.
Success was perhaps not the result which Boris Johnson and Michael Gove wanted. The unprincipled Johnson probably just wanted disruption, from which he might emerge as Prime Minister. Gove was his rat-on-a-string, hitching his star to the bigger man, hoping that proximity would give him some scraps or perhaps an opportunity to stab Johnson in the back.
That round ended like the closing scene in a Blackadder series, with almost everyone dead on the floor.
Cameron resigned, Johnson made his bid for leadership and little Gove turned on him, destroying both Johnson’s chances and his own. From the melée emerged two finalists, Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom.
If May seems a disaster now, we weren’t to know that then. It seemed odd that Andrea Leadsom was even a contender – slightly vulgar in what used to be called a “Gin and Jag” way, with a questionable CV and the bad taste (and tactical stupidity) to invoke May’s childlessness against her. Loathsome withdrew and Theresa May made the fine-sounding victory speech which we expect from new Prime Ministers – fairness at the heart of the agenda, opportunity for all, that sort of thing – before settling down to a nasty, brutish and almost certainly short reign.
Let’s fast-forward through the months that followed in which May soured relations with pretty well everyone with a mixture of haughtiness, misjudgement and obstinacy. Tory governments are never liked but are tolerated for their competence. May blew that, replaced Cameron’s emollient style with an attitude which made enemies in her own party as well as in the country and in the EU, and pissed her majority up against the wall in an election campaign which made Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour look electable.
We come to the end of last week. In addition to self-inflicted wounds, May has had to face terrorist attacks and the disastrous Grenfell Tower fire, and most of the mud thrown around seems to stick to the Tories, though a more adroit PR team would have deflected, shared or postponed much of that. May’s discussions with the EU are going as badly as you would expect when your negotiating team includes the blustering buffoon David Davis and May herself.
May resorted to a straightforward lie:
In claiming that 80% of the voters backed Brexit, May was accepting and endorsing the cleverly-created Labour myth that the large swing to Corbyn reflected enthusiasm for the formal Labour pro-Brexit position. Much of it in fact reflected an increasing dislike of May herself as she robotically repeated stock phrases doing the election campaign; much of it was due to Labour’s offer of free stuff – generous promises made to the young who voted for Labour in unprecedented hordes without apparently questioning where the money was to come from – hiking Corporation Tax and milking “the rich” would do it apparently. For some reason, Corbyn failed to mention his enthusiasm for Brexit to the adoring young at Glastonbury who will be the chief victims of his Brexit policy.
Still the critics carped at the handling of the Brexit negotiations and, increasingly, at the rationale for Brexit itself, hard, soft or any other kind. What, wondered Theresa May, would make her look better? Got it! Deploy the ghastly Andrea Leadsom!
Loathsome was interviewed by Emily Maitlis on Friday. Maitlis is one of the most effective political interviewers. She doesn’t hector or bully, just wants to KNOW. Politicians can emerge unscathed from being shouted at by John Humphrys or sneered at by Jeremy Paxman partly because Humphrys and Paxman never let them get a word in edgeways anyway, and partly because the most unsympathetic listener feels they have been treated unfairly. Maitlis’s interruptions are the more deadly for being genuinely exasperated.
She won from Leadsom the assertion that “It would be helpful if broadcasters were willing to be a bit patriotic”. Listen and squirm as this ghastly woman tells us that it is our duty to back this weak, inadequate government as it blunders its way – our way – to economic ruin.
This would be downright sinister if said by a representative of a government which actually had authority. Coming from this minister of this government, it just looks silly:
Johnson, Gove, Leadsom, Davis, May – was ever a country led by a worse pack of low-rent people whose malignity is surpassed only by their uselessness? Only Corbyn, with his cheap promises and rent-a-mob rhetoric could be worse.