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Tuesday, September 29, 2020
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Mark Ellse: May’s muddled meddling spells trouble

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Am I not beautiful? Slim, attractive? Perfectly, yet tenderly, coiffured? With a smile and demeanour that dazzle men half my age and such energy with it? Do I not, like Gilbert’s Katisha, ‘have a left shoulder-blade that is a miracle of loveliness’? And does not the daring cut of my dress reveal it so that ‘people can come miles to see it’?

My words, are they not lovely too? The path towards the new centre ground of British politics..built on the values of fairness and opportunity…where everyone plays by the same rules and where every single person – regardless of their background….is given the chance to be all they want to be. Who could possibly disagree?

Robert Harris commented on Tony Blair’s messianic view of politics. But that was at the end of Blair’s career, not at the beginning. What can we expect of Theresa May whose first conference speech assures us that new modern Conservatism (New Conservatives, no less) will never hesitate to face down the powerful…and will always act in the interests of ordinary, working class people. And it’s what I’m in this for. To stand up for the weak and stand up to the strong. She might as well have quoted directly from the Magnificat: ‘He has put down the mighty from the seat and exalted the humble and meek.’ What could be more messianic that that?

Come with me and we’ll write that brighter future.
Come with me and we’ll make that change.
Come with me as we rise to meet this moment.
Come with me and together let’s seize the day.

When I first read this part of May’s speech, I thought that it was one of those ghastly new hymns that they would have children sing in multifaith school assemblies.

The more one digs into Theresa May’s speech, the more clearly one sees what arrant nonsense it is. One does not disagree with her aspirations. We would all love to live in a land of milk and honey where the lion slept with the lamb, etc, etc. But politics is not largely about where we would like to get to but rather about how we are going to get there. Theresa May clearly has little idea.

May wants to support free markets, but step in to repair them when they aren’t working. It’s clear what that means – endless, directionless government tinkering.

May aims for a balanced budget and lauds her own party for having helped nearly a million new business to set up and grow. Yet she sees the government stepping up. Righting wrongs. Challenging vested interests. Taking big decisions…  the sort of high profile intervention that that dissuades entrepreneurs from growing those businesses, which create the wealth that enables the budget to be balanced.

I want us to be a country where it doesn’t matter where you were born
, says May, but at the same time chides those who take on cheap labour from overseas.

Politicians are like lawyers. If one has a good one, one wants him to be active. But if one has a bad lawyer, the last thing one wants him to be is active. A bad, active lawyer can get you into an awful mess and so can a bad, active politician. There is every sign that Theresa May’s reign will be a disaster, most particularly for those who are most vulnerable, those whom Mrs May says she wants most to protect.

May wishes to draw a distinction between a vaguely and ill defined accident of birth and talent, completely failing to see that talent is itself an accident of birth. All that should matter is the talent you have she says and then wonders why white working class boys do so badly in life. Has it not occurred to her that it is because they lack talent?

Just think what sort of world the New Conservatives have created for talentless white working class boys. They face a labour market where the minimum wage has resulted in employers cutting every possible low-skilled job. When they apply for the few jobs that remain the minimum wage has completely altered the competition they face. Instead of competing against similar candidates, even without hard-working, skilled foreign competition, many bright married women are entirely happy in naff jobs because they now pay so well.

One knows that, if one sat Theresa May down and tried to explain all these things, one would make little progress. Oh, she’s a bright woman. Unlike Cameron she may even be able to multiply 8 by 9. But logic has no part in her persona. One resort’s to Gilbert’s words again. ‘I thought so little they rewarded me by making me the ruler of the Queen’s navy.’ That says it all.

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Mark Ellse
Mark Ellse
Mark Ellse is a physicist and author. He is a former headmaster, independent school inspector and A level chief examiner.

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