With her comments on the EU, Theresa May has gone full Trump

Sean O'Grady

Unusually nervous for a front-line politician, visibly ill-at ease campaigning and an unhappy warrior in her own premature and unnecessary election, Theresa May is looking and sounding rattled, if not a little unhinged.

Strangely lacking self-control, she has taken to assaulting European politicians and officials for, allegedly, deliberately interfering in the British general election. She may be right or wrong about that, but going on the offensive on the issue in this manner looks impetuous. Indeed if Juncker and Merkel were seeking to get a rise out of Theresa, she has delivered for them in the rattiest sort of fashion.

True, she may be consciously following the Donald Trump playbook instead. That dictates that, when in a tight corner, you calculatedly attack the media or make up some half-baked conspiracy theory to distract everyone from some gaffe policy flop of your own. In this case it would be the failure of the Brexit talks before they’ve even started, and a ridiculed idea for social care vouchers.

Either way, it does not look “strong and stable” or the “constructive” approach to Brexit talks she promised in her Article 50 letter. Do we really think that Angela Merkel will be responsive to this sort of tantrum?

This is a Prime Minister with a 10-point lead in the opinion polls, with a divided opposition and, at least ostensibly, on the “right” side of the biggest argument in British politics – Brexit. Yet if she and her party continue to slide and panic then her chances of getting the landslide she must secretly dream of will disappear.

Indeed she may make comparatively little progress on George Osborne and David Cameron’s rather more skilful performance (against expectations) in 2015. Such have been the expectations of an earthquake on 8 June that if she winds up with a majority of much less than the 50-mark, say, then the nation will wonder why we bothered with this overlong campaign. So would those in her Conservative Party who still harbour reservations about her style, policies and, in electoral terms, judgement.

As has been well noted, May cannot expect to win on the basis of robotically repeated slogans (vacuous ones at that), entirely negative and personal campaigning against Jeremy Corbyn and re-cycling election poster ideas from a quarter century ago, such as the “tax bombshell” (used to admittedly devastating effect by John Major and Chris Patten against Neil Kinnock in the Lost World of 1992).

If May wants to emulate Margaret Thatcher then she needs some policies as well; if she wants to aspire to the sort of majorities achieved by Tony Blair then she ought to start getting the hang of his ability to make and turn an argument; if she wants to be as smart as the Cameron-Osborne team she’ll need to move on from the “coalition of chaos” idea they used last time round. She needs to be a better debater, and have better material to debate with than her own scant record in office.

Maybe her Trump-lite tactics, if such they are, will work in the end; but it is not a pretty sight. Could Theresa’s Wobbly Wednesday be the beginning of the end of the May ascendancy, and the first sign of an even bigger upset in British politics?

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