Dead-eyed Theresa May puts the Tories' interests first

John Crace
Theresa May outside 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

Right to the end, Theresa May was unable to keep to her own timetable. For the past six months, the prime minister had repeatedly insisted she wouldn’t be calling an early general election because it wasn’t in the best interests of the country. Sometime over Easter, Theresa was blessed with a divine revelation – there are advantages to being a vicar’s child – and came to the conclusion her own party’s interests were rather more important than the country’s. So shortly before 10am her office announced that she would be making a statement in Downing Street at 11.15.

Worried she hadn’t caught enough people on the hop, Theresa darted out the front door of No 10 nine minutes early and made a dash for the wooden lectern that had been hurriedly placed outside. She paused to clock her surroundings. Satisfied that comparatively few journalists had made it in time, she got straight to the point. After overdosing on elections in recent years, the country was now going through cold turkey. People were literally crawling up walls out of desperation to vote, and to satisfy their cravings she was going to give everyone another fix on 8 June.

Not that she wanted to be seen as a prime minister who didn’t keep her word. The problem was the opposition. They were doing the wrong thing by opposing her. Never mind that they weren’t being very effective, the problem was that they existed at all. They were a nuisance. Come to think of it, President Erdoğan had a point in clamping down on any dissent. “At this moment of national significance, there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division,” May said. She had changed her mind over Brexit when she had spotted the opportunity to become prime minister and she couldn’t for the life of her understand why other people couldn’t be so flexible with their principles.

“The country is coming together,” she continued, waving away the inconvenient truth that no one could remember a time when it had been more split. “But Westminster is not.” Labour MPs had said they might vote against a deal with the EU if they thought it wasn’t good enough. How very dare they!

The Lib Dems – all nine of them – had threatened to grind government business to a standstill. The SNP had promised to be the SNP. Life had become just impossible for her. Her opponents had tried to take advantage of her small majority, so now she was going to punish them by wiping them out completely.

At this point Theresa almost imagined herself to be a latter-day Winston Churchill. Only her enemies weren’t the Hun lining up to push the British Tommies into the Channel at Dunkirk, they were the enemy within. Those MPs who had dared to raise concerns on behalf of the 48% of the country who had voted to remain in the EU would be ruthlessly crushed.

“Our opponents believe our resolve will weaken and that they can force us to change course,” she said, unaware of how sinister she sounded. And looked. Her eyes were almost as dead as her delivery: only by disconnecting from herself could she accommodate the cynicism of her position. “They are wrong. They underestimate our determination to get the job done and I am not prepared to let them endanger the security of millions of working people across the country.” Quite right. If anyone was going to endanger the security of millions of working people, it would be her and her alone.

I. I. I. The longer Theresa went on, the more the statement became all about her. Her leadership. Her party. Her ego. Towards the end she made passing reference to the fact she had only last month declared she wouldn’t be calling a snap general election. That had turned out to be just a resolution she had made for Lent. She had tried and tried to resist the temptation of capitalising on the desperate state of the Labour party, taking the opportunity to force through a hard Brexit that almost no one in the country had voted for and guaranteeing a Conservative government for the conceivable future.

But when push had come to shove, the spirit had been willing but the flesh was weak. In what was left of her heart, she knew that no one in the country really wanted another election and that this was being played out for her own vanity and insecurity, but she just couldn’t help herself. “Politics isn’t a game,” she concluded severely. But it was and it is. Her actions spoke far louder than her words.

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