Didn’t Theresa May’s inaugural speech last week warm the cockles of your heart? Or perhaps that was acid reflux. Either way, it was a timely warning that, no matter what back-stabbing chaos may temporarily afflict the Tory Establishment, you can never underestimate their ability to switch effortlessly back into people-shafting mode.
Not that you’d necessarily have picked that up from Theresa’s language, which was so touchy-feely it bordered on harassment. Taking her words at face value, you’d almost have expected her to appoint John McDonnell as Chancellor, with Florence Nightingale in charge of Health and the Dalai Lama as Home Secretary. Who wouldn’t follow that honeyed voice to the sunlit uplands of the brave new future, pausing only for a group hug before leaping over the Brexit precipice in the sure knowledge we’d sprout life-preserving angel wings?
Of course, it’s the oldest trick in the book for incoming Tory overlords. You might call it the “reverse Ronseal”: the art of spouting screeds of high-falutin’ blurb from your policy tin before going gleefully on to do the exact opposite. Maggie Thatcher was an early exponent, with her St Francis of Assisi tommy-rot, which conspicuously failed to mention “Where there is industry, may we bring a wasteland” and “Where there is community, may we bring isolated pockets of despair”. Tony Blair, the party’s most celebrated undercover agent, glad-handed his way into Downing Street to the strain of Things Can Only Get Better, which was true only for his property portfolio. And in 2010, in a historic moment for the vampire community, the key phrase was delivered by George Osborne, whose “We’re all in this together” was a bare-faced admission of guilt dressed up as solidarity.
Now, despite the tug of my genes and life experience, I don’t wish to be a cynical old scrote. It’s juuuust conceivable that, despite having 21 years in the first-class carriage of the gravy train, a pension scheme devised by a fairy godmother and a City high-flier hubby wheeling a monthly king’s ransom home in a barrow, Theresa truly appreciates what it’s like to struggle to get by, knock your pan in around the clock and still be only a gnat’s ba’-hair away from rent arrears.
Perhaps her thoughts on the topic are scribbled on a Post-It Note, headed Ordinary Humans - Key Features, somewhere in the depths of her paperwork. They sure haven’t shown up anywhere in her political choices, statements and actions. Instead, as part of the Cameron coterie, she voted, with not a jot of queasiness, for policies that brought us the Bedroom Tax, Gradgrind economics and a million extra foodbank clients. As Home Secretary she was about as authoritarian as you can get without actually donning jackboots, and if she ever helped struggling families it was by giving them a taxi ride and police escort to the airport.
I suppose you can’t really blame Theresa and her mates for the charade. After all, how would it sound if they chose to be honest? “Hi, we’re Tories. If you’re drowning, we’ll throw you a rubber ring packed with bricks. If you’re managing to stay afloat, we’ll empty a bucket of piranha fish into the pool. In so far as we tolerate your existence at all, it’s because it amuses us to watch our sociopathic fat-cat chums rip you off at every turn.”
But I digress. For indy-inclined Scots, sitting transfixed with horror as the wall-to-wall coverage juddered on, the key point in the speech actually arose earlier. Bearing in mind the UK government’s discombobulation over Scotland’s reaction to Brexit, it came as no surprise when, only three paragraphs in, Theresa tipped a bowl of cereal over our heads with her eulogy to the precious, preciousss bond that is the Union.
Between waves of nausea we pictured David Mundell’s wee tail wagging so energetically you could dip it in paint and undercoat the shed in thirty seconds flat. And Ruthie Tank Commander, Theresa’s principal adviser on photo-ops for Thatcher-wannabes, proudly polishing her Privy Councillor prefect’s badge and dreaming of promotion to Westminster. And, in a dank little editing suite at Pacific Quay, the Reporting Scotland team moaning ecstatically and having to go for a lie doon.
Theresa’s preoccupation with The Constitutional Question was signalled even more blatantly a couple of days later, when she body-swerved a COBRA meeting about events in Nice to materialise on Nicola Sturgeon’s doorstep at Bute House. She couldn’t have got there faster if those red shoes had been Ferrari roller-skates. (I know, I shouldn’t define a female politician by her fashion choices, but, hey, we all slagged off Cameron for wearing a pig’s head as a sporran, so I’m simply being even-handed.)
All leave was cancelled at the BBC’s mistranslation department, as staff swung into action to garble Nicola’s nuanced position, keeping all options firmly on the table, into “Ah’ve got a veto, so youse English basturts are stuffed!” Andrew Marr’s Twitter hit squad surpassed themselves by pumping out one lie, repeating it in a correction, then replacing both of them with a dollop of cloth-eared speculation. Meanwhile, Gordon Brewer’s Sunday Politics Scotland conversation with Nicola continued his one-man project of failing to comprehend anything he’s told, however simple, and blaming it on the interviewee.
The more events develop, the more obvious it becomes that, on the squeaky-sphincter spectrum, the UK Establishment has moved well beyond “Occasional Embarrassing Toot”. The level of anger in Scotland after last night’s Trident debate, when Theresa’s mask slipped and she went full Cruella De Vil on us, should keep their intestinal gases bubbling away nicely. And when Nicola’s finished with them, it’s a fair bet that those Establishment sphincters will be playing “Flight of the Bumble Bee” all day and all night.
If you’re thinking of entering the dry-cleaning business, go for it! You couldn’t have picked a better time.