Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Enough frivolity, Theresa May comes out dancing with another contender pitch

Sketch: This was mainly a new version of the speech which she gave so successfully at the Tory conference

Donald Macintyre
Monday 24 November 2014 20:56

A lesser politician might think twice about making a sombre speech about terrorism the day after going on Desert Island Discs to show what presenter Kirsty Young hopefully suggested would be her “warmer, personal side”.

But for Theresa May, it’s no problem. As we learned on Sunday, she doesn’t much do frivolous. Apart from having danced in her youth to Abba’s “Dancing Queen” in flares and a yellow blouse with “huge voluminous sleeves”, and a liking for Frankie Valli’s “Walk Like A Man” (something she doesn’t think women politicians should do). And after a torrid month of trying to find a credible child abuse enquiry chair, the European Arrest Warrant fiasco, a spat with Sajid Javid on mobile phone coverage and admissions that immigration targets won’t be met, there’s nothing like the unequivocally important subject of national security to re-establish your authority, not least because it takes you pretty well beyond criticism.

And after all it’s “counter-terrorism awareness week”. This is an admittedly odd concept, reminiscent, say, of British Egg week, or National Allotment Week. Are we all supposed to sport “Yes, I’m counter-terrorism aware” badges? But then maybe the health charity model – think National Prostate Cancer Awareness Week – is just the cover you need to chip away at a few more civil liberties.

Dressed today austerely but elegantly – as befits a woman who chose a lifetime subscription to Vogue as her luxury on Discs – in a dark business suit and white top, she outlined a series of new measures, like making schools and colleges have “extremist speaker policies”, beefed up TPIMs – including “relocation” for those under the orders – banning insurance company ransom payments, and a regime of Temporary Exclusion Orders for young Brits who go off to fight with Isis. But otherwise this was mainly a new version of the speech which she gave so successfully at the Tory conference – with some of the more rhetorical flights stripped out for the more impassive Royal United Services Institute audience of securitocrats.

On atrocities the security services failed to prevent, unlike the 40 she said they had thwarted since 7/7 (including “attempts to conduct marauding ‘Mumbai-style’ gun attacks on our streets, blow up the London Stock Exchange, bring down airliners, assassinate a British ambassador…”), she judiciously cited not just the Woolwich murder of Drummer Lee Rigby “by Islamic extremists” but that of the “82-year-old British Muslim” Mohammed Saleem by a Ukrainian far-right extremist who then tried to bomb mosques in the West Midlands.

It was hardly politics-free, however. But this time instead of going full tilt at the dreaded Liberal Democrats for “outrageously irresponsible” “torpedoing” of her “snooper’s charter”, as she had to the Tories in Birmingham, she said in acceptable RUSI-ese: “Unfortunately there is no agreement in the Coalition or for that matter in the Opposition – about the need for the Communications Data Bill, and so we are going to have to wait until after the general election to address fully this increasingly urgent problem.”

But then Ms May is a politician to her fingertips. She may not walk like a man but among the men – and they are mostly men – hoping to inherit the Tory leadership, she is, for all her recent troubles, still a contender. She may yet be the one Boris has to beat.

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