In the end, the end of May brought the end of Theresa May: her own Ides of May (if we may). She announced on Saturday morning that she would leave on June 7, after trying and failing for the umpteenth time to save her Brexit agreement with the EU, running again into the now-familiar wall of hatred and mockery from within her own party and losing yet more people from her already-battered government.
She will stay on to ensure continuity while the party chooses a successor, which should happen by the end of July. It might end up being the indescribable Boris Johnson—more on that below. In the meantime, she will have one more tough pill to swallow: the boorish presence of Donald Trump on his controversial state visit to the UK, whom she will have to entertain on June 3. It will be last time we’ll get to see her and feel vicarious embarrassment on her behalf due to her inability to show even the slightest empathy towards those around her—and one can only imagine how she’ll be able to handle Trump. Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn is taking this as yet another opportunity to trot out his slogan that we’ve all learned by heart for many months now: “early elections.” Indeed, what else?
May’s farewell speech was true to form: she sounded like a teenage class president, as she has since day one. It was full of the usual clichés, only to be betrayed by a surge of emotion at the end. That crack in her voice allowed everyone to see that the pastor’s daughter, despite her political myopia and inhumane ego—the latter being a flaw of politicians generally—cuts an exemplary figure as a servant of the state. It also showed that she had chained herself—“Extinction Rebellion”-style—to the door of 10 Downing Street so stubbornly that she had lost all sense of reality, because she truly believed she could serve her country by what she was doing. The truth is that she is the 42nd official from her government to resign—something that we never thought we would be writing except in jest, and which is enough to give an idea of the sheer size of the debacle she has presided over. And then, a single tear—shed for her own failure—cannot be passed off as a sign of humanity.
May is, and always will be, a former Interior Minister who implemented brutal policies against migrants, who, with her now infamous “citizens of nowhere” quip, made the Tories jump onto the sovereignist bandwagon, under whose supervision outrageous scandals took place on an extraordinary scale, such as the forced deportations of immigrants naturalized for decades (the “Windrush generation”), and who has continued to pursue with gusto the social-Darwinistic austerity policies of her rival, George Osborne, whom she unceremoniously fired and who nowadays, from the bully pulpit of the newspaper he now heads (by kind courtesy of a Russian oligarch), keeps writing hit pieces on her in revenge. After all, this is the unmistakable Tory style, consolidated by long familiarity with power: one thinks only about one’s own career, with the excuse that they’re doing what’s good for the country. If their management of the Brexit issue is not enough proof all by itself, it’s hard to see what could be.
Her resignation, which has felt so tantalizingly close for so long, and at the same time like something that already happened long ago, came as a result of the Brexit curse. May is “only” the second Tory leader to give up after being damaged beyond repair by this issue. It comes as the conclusion of a slow-motion assisted suicide that began three years ago, when her party put her forward because she was: a) a hard worker, and b) an expendable asset in a conflict which, as they knew, would take no prisoners. Besides, the Tories have been fighting on the issue of Europe for centuries, and even Disraeli would hardly be able to survive a problem like Brexit, let alone Theresa May.
Her “One Nation Conservatism” (claiming to focus on social policies), aiming to recover the support of the social classes thrown under the bus by the elitist Etonians who came before her—Cameron, Osborne, and now, perhaps, Johnson—was fundamentally at odds with the sovereignist turn that characterized her management of the British exit (after she had started off as a Remainer). After all, Brexit is the manifestation in the context of the British isles of a continent-wide problem that had its roots in the 2008 crisis and the consequent impoverishment of the lower middle classes, and which has increasingly relegated Europe to the periphery of the world that it had for so long dominated. Then, to return to the realm of political tactics, the problem was compounded by May’s colossal mistake of calling early elections in 2017, hoping to annihilate the Labour Party and ending up strengthening it and losing her majority instead, so that she was forced to become hostage to an obscurantist micro-party, the Northern Irish DUP.
Now, Johnson’s likely advance to center stage would be the perfect conclusion to this three-act comedy in which three successive Tory Prime Ministers (Johnson included) manage to completely squander, in less than five years, their party’s legacy and vocation for political power, a party which has been in power in Westminster for the better part of three centuries and is now in danger of getting fewer votes than the Greens. Think about it: fewer votes than the Greens.
Now that there’s a good likelihood that he will come out on top, Johnson will be forced to deal with reality. We will at least have the small consolation of enjoying the schadenfreude at the sight of him losing his Falstaffian verve as he tries to manage an enormous problem that will inevitably overwhelm him. Meanwhile, however, we can expect to see Farage’s triumphant grin on Sunday night broadcast around the world.
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