Theresa May – a strong and stable leader?

Theresa May in Leeds amongst her handpicked faithful - not a 'public' appearance at all.

Dave Kellaway looks at how far Theresa May is from the image she tries to project:

Theresa May = Geoffrey Boycott

Theresa May confesses that the former English opening batsman, Geoffrey Boycott is her hero. This actually reveals quite a lot about her. Boycott was a very good player but notorious for slow scoring and being against flamboyance of any sort. He was solid, methodical and fairly boring. Also he would quite regularly run out his batting partners i.e. sacrifice them rather than lose his own wicket. Notoriously he found some excuse not to tour the West Indies when their fast bowlers were ruling the world cricket scene. Boycott’s world view – he still pontificates on Test Match special and on TV – is very much provincial Yorkshire. He has publicly supported UKIP and he was convicted of physically attacking his partner.

Your hero or heroine usually tells others something about yourself. May, like Boycott, is renowned as a stolid administrator who pays great attention to detail and is very cautious. She is not particularly sociable. Boycott was famous for being hated in the dressing room by his fellow players.

In this election May has been shown to be very awkward with actual voters. Apparently Tory Central Office made sure all the users of a community centre in Leeds were not invited to her ‘public’ appearance there two days ago. Tory activists were bussed in to perform as the public. This follows visits to factories for photo calls where either workers were forbidden from speaking or had not yet arrived.

Just as Boycott avoided those fiery West Indian bowlers so May is refusing to participate in any TV debates with Corbyn or anybody else. At every meeting and TV appearance Tory members hold up the signs saying Strong and Stable Leadership. A strong leader should be able to defend their ideas in public against their opponents. Labour should instruct its representatives to hammer away at this contradiction on every occasion they can.

May is no Thatcher

Look at the way May became leader of the Conservative party. It was a different pathway to that of Margaret Thatcher who – though she should be condemned for much besides – was actually a strong leader. She laid out her neo-liberal approach and campaigned for it, in opposition to the then Tory leader Edward Heath.

May was the lucky beneficiary of the Gove/Johnson fratricide. All the polls suggested Johnson would be the next leader. If Cameron had not made the fatal mistake of calling the referendum she would probably still be Home Secretary, and he Prime Minister.
May has all the provincial, chintz curtain fear of the other that Boycott has shown. It was on her watch that the infamous ‘shop an immigrant van’ was sent around our neighbourhoods. This was hastily withdrawn in the storm of the protest that ensued. As Home Secretary things got increasingly worse for migrants and asylum seekers.

A strong leader delivers on their policies. May set a target of reducing immigration and it doubled, so thankfully she failed there. A strong leader may change their mind but does not vacillate or is easily pressured by their entourage. The about turn about cutting and running came after she had said at least eleven times she was going to continue to 2020. Strong leaders take a stand, like Jeremy did in two leadership elections, whereas May stuck with Cameron on a half-hearted Remain position so she could manoeuvre later on.

Does May offer stable leadership? Hardly. One minute she is for cleaning up the nasty party and is an ardent Cameroon, the next minute she is embracing UKIP policies and preparing to purge some of the Eton Cameron cronies after what she thinks will be a stunning election victory. She was a Remain stalwart arguing that Brexit would be damaging to the banks she once worked for and then she argued Britain can walk away without a deal and become a successful tax haven off the coast of Europe.

Make June the end of May

I suggest Corbyn and his team prepare a video showing how weak and unstable May’s leadership is. It would be easy just to line up all the clips of her with diametrically opposed positions as well as those awkward social interactions.

Jeremy Corbyn, on the other hand, has many of the features of a strong and stable leader. He was right about Iraq and stuck to his guns despite being vilified for years. He faced down 80% of his MPs and the British media to defeat the chicken coup. He has refused to be bumped on the question of a unilateral first nuclear strike.

Good leaders are not shouters. We all remember those teachers at school that screamed all the time. They might have kept their classes quiet but did anyone learn anything and did they get any respect? Good leaders listen and create teams. They don’t do grandiloquence, self-glorification and posturing.

Ernest Shackleton was an Antarctic explorer who kept a team of people together in the most extreme conditions and brought every man back alive. He would take his turn making the tea and he was a listening leader. Scott, the great British hero died a few miles from the South Pole with his team. He was much more the public school army officer writing himself into history but was less competent than Shackleton.

Corbyn in many ways is more charismatic and lively than Clement Atlee but the latter led the most successful Labour government in history and defeated someone who was supposed to be the greatest leader the country has ever had.

Corbyn himself has a good response to May’s strong and stable claim: “The Conservatives are strong against the weak and weak against the strong. That’s not leadership . Strong leadership is looking out for the many not the few”

In this election we have to deconstruct and destroy the myth of May being a strong and stable leader and praise the strengths of Jeremy Corbyn. Ignoring the Tory attack from this direction would be a mistake.

2 Comments

  1. I think it is possible to decry Theresa May’s hypocrisy without overestimating Corbyn’s talents of whitewashing the Atlee government. The latter started Britain’s nuclear weapons programme, took the UK into NATO and bears great responsibility for the partition of India, all policies which haunt the world to day and make our future very uncertain. So “successful labour government” is a very relative term.

    I think in assessing Corbyn’s “strength”, you need to be much more circumspect. He was much more persuasive when he had almost no political power or responsibility. His failure to defeat the political views of those in the PLP and apparatus who want to undermine him means they have a dagger at his throat.

  2. Absolutely right to mention the failure of Atlee to break with British imperialism and nuclear policy but my point was relative to all other Labour governments. You are right to suggest that Corbyn has real limits too. I agree he needs to be tougher and his notion of the unity of the LP family is the achilles heel of is whole project which may be fatally exposed if he loses badly enough to be forced out.

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