2017/5: General Election – The No Policies Policy
Aside from a couple taken from other parties, do the Conservatives have any policies asks Steve Beauchampé?
Has the Prime Minister turned into a parrot? I only ask because despite leading the country that gave to the world the rich and eloquent language of Shakespeare, Dickens, Betjeman and Ted Hughes, Theresa May’s vocabulary seems to consist of two phrases totalling just seven words (and we all know by now what they are so I won’t repeat them). To be fair though that’s two more than your average parrot, who struggles to get beyond “Who’s A Pretty Boy Then?”
Not that any of us are likely to get the chance to ask Mrs May something in person. Despite refusing to participate in television debates because she would be busy travelling around the country talking to ordinary voters, May has remained in a hermetically sealed bubble, helicoptered in to stand before placard-brandishing Conservative Party members, robotically mouth those seven words, many times over, add a few other vacuous remarks, before flying back to Westminster, job done, no questions asked…literally!
Labour could perhaps do with a memorable slogan of their own; something dripping with positivity, hope and optimism, as effective as Obama’s Yes We Can or Blair’s Things Can Only Get Better. The party’s campaign has been surprisingly good so far, but by focussing chiefly on injustice and inequality their message at times presents a view of the UK as grim and depressing, and with little prospect of improvement, things that most people don’t feel. Yet the continual, relentless use of the same slogan and soundbite can quickly undermine its effectiveness, with signs over the weekend that Theresa May’s favourite phrases might just be becoming more mocked than listened to.
Perhaps the party should ask Boris for help. Showing that a public school education trumps the state system, at least in terms of a varied and colourful vocabulary, the man who this time last year was promising us £350m per week extra for the NHS turned to making personal insults at Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and making everyone reach for the dictionary in the process. As is his wont, Corbyn did not respond (when they go low, you go high JC, although not perhaps in the opinion polls) and credit to him for that. Credit also to Labour for taking this election business seriously and treating the voters like adults (ditto each of the larger of the ‘smaller’ parties). Labour’s policy announcements continue coming, the issues continue to be raised and debated, the interviews continue to be given. Their manifesto should be quite a hefty document.
Rumour has it that the Conservative manifesto is to be issued as a single tweet. Still, if you don’t offer any policies then I suppose you can’t subsequently be accused of breaking any policy pledges. And given the enormity and complexity of extracting Britain from the EU, this most scrutiny-averse of Prime Ministers probably won’t have much time to introduce large tracts of legislation, especially if her opponents’ claim that she’ll be revoking swathes of current employment, environmental and consumer law prove correct.
And whilst on the subject of departing the EU, it’s been suggested several times recently that Labour’s Brexit spokesperson Sir Keir Starmer would make a good centrist replacement for Jeremy Corbyn as party leader. Launching Labour’s Brexit strategy last week, the excruciatingly dull Starmer showed why that would be something of a disaster. In a typically clunky, emotionless and passion-free performance, Starmer sounded like the type of bland, no charisma middle manager Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge character used to encounter at his temporary East Anglian Travel Tavern home.
On this most crucial of issues, Labour finds itself appealing fully to no-one, caught in a perfect political snooker somewhere between the attempts of the Lib Dems, SNP and Blair/Mandelson to reverse or otherwise negate the referendum result, and the Tory/UKIP rush to enact a complete break from the EU, its structures, laws and institutions. Given that Labour’s core voters were split between Leave and Remain, its position may in essence be reasonable – respect the EU referendum result but fight to achieve the best outcome for the future, prioritising the economy, environment, employment rights and consumer protection legislation over immigration. But the referendum has turned the United Kingdom into the Divided Kingdom and on this issue there seems no longer a space for compromise and consensus. It’s a binary world with just Remoaners (also known as Enemies of the People) or gallant Brexiteers fighting to take back control from the increasingly hostile group of 27 – and you’re either in one camp or the other!
And finally, lest you missed it, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon appeared briefly early last week to warn yet again that Jeremy Corbyn is a threat to national security, with his opposition to spending up to £41bn on renewing Trident at a time of ongoing austerity and swingeing cuts to vital public services. Fallon added that both he and Theresa May would be prepared to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike (I don’t think they meant against Jeremy Corbyn but I’m not entirely certain). Odd sort of a country where those willing to vaporise countless numbers of civilians are defined as moderate, whilst someone who prefers the de-escalation of military tension through dialogue over unleashing weapons of planet-changing destruction is viewed as extreme.
May 1st 2017
First published in The BirminghamPress.com