After a busy weekend on the interview front, Theresa May’s election strategy becomes even plainer. She intends to use her god-given genius to bore and stupefy the electorate into losing both the will to care about her limitations, and the capacity to notice when she says something daft or horrifying.
This cunning plan is already working judging by her appearance this morning on Andrew Marr’s Sabbath sofa. After anaesthetising viewers with the barrage of “strong and stables”, “secure futures”, “most important election of our lifetimes” and “Brexit negotiations will be toughs”, she could have come out with anything without activating the mental alarm bells.
“Andrew, if we win this election, my first official duty on 9 June will be to go to London Zoo,” she could have said, “take all my clothes off, and have a refreshing swim in the tiger enclosure water trough. I’ve been very clear that big-cat skinny-dipping is what this country needs, not a coalition of chaos led by Jeremy Corbyn, who’d flounder in the shallow end of the seal pool.”
And you’d have sat there in front of the telly, eyes glazed, the mind fondly wandering back to that staggering uppercut Anthony Joshua threw in the 11th, semiconsciously muttering, “Yeah, she’s absolutely right. Nude bathing with tigers is exactly the kind of safe and secure future Britain needs.”
Even by political standards, the self-styled straight-shooter’s unwillingness to give straight answers is so formidable that when she does, it jolts you awake for a moment before she sloganises you back into the torpor.
Asked by Marr if she thinks gay sex is a sin, for example, she differentiated herself from dithery Tim Farron by answering “no” in a flash. That was one of her two instantaneous answers of the weekend (we’ll come to the other below). Sadly, when Marr raised the public-sector pay freeze, and how this has led to nurses being obliged to use food banks, she was more nuanced.
“There are many complex reasons why people go to food banks,” she replied. “I want to develop a strong economy where people … blah blah blah … and not only tigers, Andrew. My longer-term plans include swimming in the buff with pumas, ocelots, jaguars, cheetahs, and the occasional lynx.” Or something like that.
What with being punchier from the cliché barrage than the post-uppercut Wladimir Klitchsko, the nature of that cultivated idiocy whooshed overhead. But an hour later, the fog cleared to reveal this truth. There aren’t many complex reasons why people use food banks. There is one incredibly simple reason. They don’t have enough money to buy enough food. So how can it be that a nurse, a highly qualified professional doing a difficult and crucial job in one of the world’s largest economies, is in that position? Doesn’t that fact deserve almost as brisk and unequivocal an answer – “It’s shaming, Andrew, and ending it will be one of my government’s priorities” – as the sinlessness of gay sex?
Apparently not, though another question did in a Mail on Sunday interview. So mechanical was she throughout this one that – when a politician gives so little away, you microscopically examine the trivia for clues – even her answers to the frothy questions seemed pre-scripted. Was it coincidence or clever Middle Eastern fence-sitting that she takes one favourite recipe from an Israeli cook, Yotam Ottolenghi, and another from an Iranian, Sabrina Ghayour? Did she name Casablanca as her all-time favourite film just because it is a timelessly wonderful movie, or because in it the Germans and French are at war with one another, and not ganging up against poor little us?
One curious absentee among her cinematic preferences was 1964 Stanley Kubrick film Dr Strangelove, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb. That other clear and monosyllabic reply designed to contrast herself with another party leader came when the Mail on Sunday asked if, unlike Corbyn, she would press the nuclear button. “Yes”, the paper reports her replying.
Trump could not have answered more quickly.
With the traditional caveat that I’m no theologian, it must reveal something about the true nature of her faith that the vicar’s daughter, who prevaricates at length about nurses needing charity to eat, glibly foresees killing hundreds of thousands without a millisecond’s pause for thought.
The contrast this suggests with Jeremy Corbyn won’t strike everyone (if anyone is paying attention) as she intended. His failure after 18 months to have developed a coherent Trident policy is hardly impressive, but give Corbyn credit for this. Asked the same two questions, he would give a little more thinking time to Armageddon than whether nurses should earn enough to afford enough food.
And at least, as Marr pointed out, Corbyn was right to oppose Iraq. Whereas May would not say if she would have voted for war had she known then what we know now. “That,” she said, with a typically original turn of phrase, “is a hypothetical”. It is no such thing. If she really needs a working example of a true hypothetical, I’d recommend the classic about whether a prime minister would ever use nuclear weapons.