With her hair blown into a Home Counties version of the Mohican, or possibly a startling tonsorial homage to Donald Trump, Theresa May quite frankly looked deranged. But then rushing things can play merry hell with the optics. Her announcement, scheduled for 11.15am but made at 11.05am, came ahead of time, just like this election itself.
God knows why she was in such a frantic rush to announce a snap general election, when she could have used those minutes to apply industrial quantities of wind-taming hairspray, as Margaret Thatcher undoubtedly would have done. Yet despite that, there was something strikingly Maggie May-ish about the PM (reluctant? reluctant my arse) because she obviously means to party like its 1983.
That year, when the election fell on a day later than the forthcoming one, Thatcher went to the country 11 months early, rather than 36, to make hay from the Falklands afterglow.
May also means to fight a nationalistic election, offering herself as a chariot-born warrior fighting on two fronts: one against the enemy within, in the shape of Jeremy Corbyn (and Tim Farron and Nicola Sturgeon); the other against the enemy without, in the form of those fiends in Brussels and the 27 surviving EU states.
However dotty the PM looked today when giving a short speech that might almost have been written for her by Nigel Farage, her decision is clinically sane and logical. She again reminded us, with the trademark didactic prissiness of the Fifties grammar school teacher, that politics is not a game. But of course it is – and here we found her playing it with barely disguised brutality and entirely blatant cynicism.
Time and again – most recently on 20 March – she had been “very clear” that under no circumstances would she call a snap election. She didn’t want to cash in on Labour’s surreal vulnerability. She was all about quietly getting on with the job. And then, with Corbyn crucified in every Easter poll, she went walking with her soul mate Philip and had an epiphany.
Perhaps I am too unkind. Maybe their perambulations took them to a field where the wind, not content with mussing up her hair, blew magic mushroom spores into the air, causing her to hallucinate a last nine months in which she hadn’t repeatedly sworn to avoid doing what she has done. But seems a long shot, if nothing like as long as the odds against her losing on 8 June.
The parallels with 1983 are eerie. That June, Thatcher destroyed Michael Foot, the last Labour leader to contest an election on an unmistakably left-wing platform. The serious betting this time won’t concern the result, but whether May outdoes Thatcher’s 1983 majority of 144.
She can spout all the cobblers about needing a united front when she negotiates Brexit in the world, but this is not about that. This is about her playing the game with absolute, self-serving ruthlessness. She intends to destroy Labour as a viable party of government for a very long time, if not forever. And she might.
The chilling democratic implications of speeding the march towards entrenched one-party statehood means as little to her as the spirit of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, for which she voted just six years ago. She has studied the polls, and calculated any collateral damage to her personal reputation from revealing herself to be a blithe and serial liar as a cheap price to pay. Anyone who bangs on about the brazen hypocrisy of this volte-face will be drowned out by the chorus of sour grapes. Besides, in the age of Trump, who seriously expects any honesty and consistency from their political leaders?
In purely sporting terms, you can almost admire the savagery. She had no need to do this with Labour punch drunk and staggering pitiably around the ring. A more humane and elegant fighter would have resisted the temptation, like Muhammad Ali in Kinshasa with “the punch he never threw” as George Foreman slid towards the canvas.
But politics, unlike boxing, is a game in which elegance and humanity play no part – and Theresa May confirms that she is one ferocious bruiser. She will torment Labour beyond endurance over the weeks ahead with the zealous assistance of loyalist newspapers. This will be as nauseating and repulsive an election as we have ever seen, in which the ideas of a good man (albeit far out of his depth) will be wickedly misrepresented day after day after day.
Through it all, the Boudica of Brexit will storm serenely on, mincing Labour beneath the blades of her chariot wheels, being every inch as clear about this and that as she was about not calling the election. And this time without a hair out of place.Reuse content