May convinces MPs that Brexit requires strong and ignorant leadership | John Crace

John Crace
‘Theresa can only aspire to the empathy levels of a cartoon character.’ Photograph: SilverHub/Rex/Shutterstock

“To Brexit and beyond,” announced a monotone Theresa May, the hollow sockets that pass for eyes giving nothing away. It didn’t have quite the ring of “to infinity and beyond”, but then the prime minister doesn’t have the charisma of Buzz Lightyear. Theresa can only aspire to the empathy levels of a cartoon character. She attempted a grin to try to prove she can do emotion but her mouth merely assumed a death-like rictus.

Theresa began the formalities of the parliamentary debate to approve her call for a general election where she had left off the day before. How dare anyone suggest she couldn’t be trusted to keep her word. When she had said she wasn’t going to call an election what she had really meant was that she wasn’t going to call an election until she changed her mind. No one could reasonably expect her to be any clearer than that.

The country was more united than it had ever been, she insisted. That was united, as in united in its divisions. And it was high time that Westminster fell into line. All this democratic dissent was getting on her nerves. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. What this country needed to see it through Brexit was a strong and ignorant leadership. And because she didn’t as yet have a clue what kind of deal she was going to be able to negotiate with the EU, no one was better equipped to provide that strong and ignorant leadership than her.

“Now is the time for the country to decide,” Theresa concluded. Several SNP MPs interrupted to enquire why now was also not the time for a second Scottish referendum. The prime minister just stared back blankly. Because the Scots couldn’t be trusted to vote the right way. Wasn’t that obvious? What was the point of having an election in which you didn’t already know the result?

Jeremy Corbyn breathed in deeply, channelling his inner Gabriel García Márquez. “We welcome the opportunity to have an early general election so we can give the country the Labour government it deserves,” he said, going on to insist that the election would be fought on Tory cuts to the NHS and schools rather than Brexit and his leadership skills.

At times like this, magical realism comes into its own. Though not enough to impress his own backbenchers. Only a couple had bothered to cheer him when he had stood up to speak and both of them looked as though they had regretted that support by the time Corbyn had finished his opening sentence.

The only moment of real Labour party unity had come earlier in the day when Yvette Cooper had deftly skewered Theresa at prime minister’s questions by pointing out that by effectively lying about the reasons for holding an election she had made it impossible for anyone to believe a word she said in the future. Theresa had tried to respond but had given up when she realised no one would believe her.

Corbyn’s willingness to vote for a general election he will almost certainly lose, rather than give the prime minister the headache of a no confidence vote, prompted the Conservative Desmond Swayne to conclude: “Turkeys really do vote for Christmas.” It was hard to fault the logic.

Though Swayne shared his leader’s outrage that the views of the 48% who voted to remain in the EU should be represented in parliament, he did have one gripe. This was the second time he had taken Theresa at her word and made the mistake of assuring his constituents in the local paper that something wouldn’t happen that was now happening. Did she have anything else she wanted to tell him before he went for the hat-trick?

As it happened, she might. After accusing the prime minister of gaming the system for her own partisan, political advantage rather than in the national interest – Theresa hastily crossed herself several times – the SNP’s Angus Robertson wanted to know why she was so doggedly avoiding a televised debate. “I have some breaking news,” he declared. “ITV have announced they are going to have a debate regardless.”

Could the prime minister confirm whether she was still not planning to take part?

Theresa giggled awkwardly. Part of her longed to say the real reason she didn’t want a televised debate was because she was worried she would be so brilliant that she would end up with too big a majority. There again, if she was to do a reverse ferret and give in to the broadcasters, then no one would hold it against her. Changing her mind was what she did.

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