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Monday, 12 June 2017

Being Mr May

A huge burden has fallen on the shoulders of Philip May over the past few days. His wife opened her innings as Prime Minister extremely well; then within a very short time she embraced a clutch of harebrained policies that undercut her position - notably her advocacy of foxhunting and grammar schools. Then she opted for a general election, at a time when the opinion polls indicated that the Labour party was seriously unpopular; apparently without checking that her own situation was strong. Thereafter she relied an her two close confidants, who had been unpopular at the Home Office where they had [or so it is now alleged] led her into several delusory paths. Thus came about the catastrophic manifesto and the idiocy of constantly asserting that she was 'strong and stable' as she demonstrated herself, and her position, to be anything but secure.

Most significant, and dangerous for the entire country, was her inability to explain how she would lead the negotiations on Britain's exit from the European Union. Part way through the election campaign I decided that this was because she genuinely did not understand what was expected of her. I do not think that she begins to understand what a 'hard Brexit' would be, or what catastrophic effects in would have on the entire population. I do not think that she understands any economic issue at all, whether in terms of rational ratiocination or idiotic economic theory.

She has now put her party in a position when they are in office but not in power, and even Boris Johnson has been able to see that she has earned the painful position that she must now be kept in for as long as possible. Michael Fallon and other senior ministers have made it clear that she will be controlled from now on; that policy will be made in cabinet, and she must follow it. So there is a hope that the country will get a decent outcome, and the Tories may even achieve a little credibility.

Mrs May will not enjoy that situation. Recently it has been made even more clear than before that she it utterly dependent on her husband: to a degree that makes her marriage very different from Denis Thatcher's. Denis became a popular figure, who was seen as powerless but fully autonomous; and Margaret's loyalty to him was unquestioned. Mrs May's dependency is palpable and painful, and the removal of her guard-dogs leaves the couple dangerously exposed in their isolation from real life.

Prime Minister's spouses have long been important, but to go back just eighty years, no-one doubted the calming and cheering influence of Lady Churchill. Then, when Labour won by a landslide in 1945, as Harold Laski and Herbert Morrison were said to be plotting to remove Clement Attlee from the Labour leadership, Mrs Attlee drove the small family car to the palace and her husband was given the King's commission; thus the plotters were stymied. Lady Eden took her husband on holiday when he ran off his trolley after Suez, and thereafter the nation was polite about the difficulties of the MacMillan marriage. Mary Wilson became a national treasure, supporting Harold in sickness and in health and later taking care of Lady Thatcher when she was a demented widow. Cherie Booth's independent career - and her republican reputation - did her no harm, nor did she have any detrimental effect on Tony Blair's career. His relatively recent marriage, and the children it produced, gave Gordon Brown a positive future after his defeat; and the loss of office after the loss of the referendum reanimated "Sam Cam's" career.

How Mr May fits into that catalogue is yet to be proven: but few people could envy him.

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