Thursday, 29 November 2018

Theresa May carries on regardless

The Withdrawal Agreement that Theresa May commended to parliament met with almost universal disapproval. Both Leavers and Remainers were vehemently opposed. Many of her own party were opposed. The Labour Party was opposed. The Liberal Democrats were opposed. The Scottish and Welsh nationalists were opposed. The Green MP was opposed. And the Democratic Unionist Party was opposed. It was obvious for anyone to see that there was no majority for the proposed deal. Yet Theresa May was apparently undismayed.

Instead of recognising the reality, May simply doubled down and went into full campaign mode. She decided to go over the heads of the parliamentarians and appeal directly to the public. In the two weeks since her disastrous parliamentary statement, she has given press conferences, television interviews, taken radio call-ins, travelled the country and constantly repeated her talking points, which can be distilled to there is no other deal and not accepting the deal would be a disaster.

Watching Theresa May is a surreal experience. What is particularly troubling is the impression that she is being sincere, and truly believes what she says, and cannot see that virtually everyone else knows that what she is saying is simply not congruent with the facts. We have seen before what happens when a country is run by a prime minister who prefers belief to evidence and facts. That was how Tony Blair took us into the war on Iraq, for instance.

May's (well, Michel Barnier and Olly Robbins really) deal does not achieve any of the things she claims it does, which is why it is equally disliked by Remainers and Leavers alike. For the Leavers, it does not remove the country from the rules of the European Union. For the Remainers, it does not provide the benefits of the current relationship. It is neither Leave nor Remain, but some kind of half-way house: the worst of all possible worlds.

Yet, May is in denial. She apparently cannot understand why everyone isn't congratulating her on a wonderful deal. So to add weight to her campaign to bring the light to all those dim people who are opposed, she has had the Treasury conjure up "analyses" that show her deal is better than no deal. She has had the Bank of England create "scenarios" that show how her deal is better than no deal. Before the referendum vote, the then prime minister, David Cameron, tried this project fear tactic and the Treasury and Bank of England told the public that merely voting to Leave would cause the sky to fall. The people voted to Leave and the sky did not fall. Yet, Prime Minister May has wheeled out the self same tactic, expecting it to work this time around.

For this stubborn refusal to acknowledge reality, May is receiving much praise from many in the media. They admire her resilience and fortitude, her never say die attitude. But there is nothing admirable about her behaviour. She isn't refusing to be defeated by a mortal enemy. This isn't Churchill vowing to fight on and on. It is a prime minister who has clearly lost the capacity to see what's plainly in front of her.

However, there is a limit to how long one can maintain a delusion. In May's case, the meeting with reality is scheduled for 11 December, which is when her deal is put to the vote in parliament. There can only be one outcome: a crushing defeat for her deal. What happens then probably depends on how she reacts. If she cannot accept reality at that stage, it is inevitable that her own party will depose her. That is the Tories secret weapon: they get rid of losing leaders. The only question is: who will want to take her place?

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