Theresa May keeps defying expectations, only each time in the worst possible way. After flip-flopping with remarkable haste over Brexit, her party’s budget, and the need for a snap general election, and reducing her already limited capacity for speech to a single slogan, ‘Strong and stable, strong and stable, strong and stable’ a dozen times a day, this week she has been busy by the seaside, daintily stuffing her skewed face.
The Shimmering Ostrich thought that for all May’s faults – and she has perilously many – she at least possessed the good sense and enough political rigour to avoid the perils of food on the campaign trail. But the sorry show she made of herself on a visit to Cornwall indicates her susceptibility to pressure, and the extraordinary emphasis placed on populist munching by campaign strategists and senior aides.
May wrangled with a cone of chips, her sternest test yet as she pushes for a bloated majority in parliament. She gazed forlornly upon the curious objects, raised one to her mouth and bit down carefully with her front teeth, and then grimaced and reached for a coffee to quickly wash away the unpalatable taste.
The Sun suggested she was ‘unimpressed’ with the starchy offering, as though she has eaten chip shop chips many times before and these didn’t quite come up to scratch. But her befuddled and then horrified expression indicated that this was a never-to-be-repeated first.
May of course follows in a long line of politicians who have blundered trying to prove their penchant for the common man’s grub. David Cameron told porky pies about a pasty, George Osborne ordered too-costly burger and fries takeaway, and Ed Miliband’s bulging face as he struggled to wrap his lips around a bacon sarnie was emblazoned just a day before the 2015 election over The Sun‘s front page.
If the ability to stomach such foods really matters, if politicians who can chow down with the rest of us really do carry more weight, shouldn’t we be more concerned with some of the specifics? Did May even bother with any of the usual accouterments, like ketchup, tartare or curry sauce, cheese, scrapings, vinegar, or mushy peas?
May’s trip to Cornwall ties in with a pledge she made last week to ‘Lead the world in preventing tourism’ – for why travel abroad when you can pop to the coast for a day visit, or even rent a cottage and eat chips daily as part of an annual stay-vacay?
Local press in Cornwall weren’t quite so lucky, because after May left the seafront for an industrial estate, her controlling temper once more bubbled over. Cornwall Live staffers reported being held in a room until they were afforded three minutes of questions, with strictly no filming on the Prime Minister’s firm decree. The scenario echoes recent visits to a factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, to a business centre in Leeds, and to a housing estate in Bristol, where May pretended to be engaging with the public, but in fact only dared to confront a few invited guests.
But of course we can forgive May’s reluctance to engage with the people or face members of the opposition in televised debates, because after all she has the damned EU to contend with – and after leaks regarding her recent meeting with President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, she has vowed to be a ‘bloody difficult woman’ indeed.
A leaked account of their dinner was published by the German newspaper FAZ. It suggests that the two sides remain poles apart when it comes to the likely terms of any Brexit deal. May is accused of underestimating or simply failing to understand the complexity of the process, for instance when it comes to potential trade arrangements, or citizens’ rights given that these also concern the provision of health care; of insisting that Britain will owe no money; of seeking to frustrate as a negotiating tactic the remaining twenty-seven EU member states; and of still believing that Britain will be able to pick and choose the best bits of EU membership, or that she will be able to opt in and out of measures willy-nilly in an endeavour to save face.
Juncker reportedly said ‘I leave Downing Street ten times more sceptical than I was before’. But May responded with more threats, blaming ‘bureaucrats in Brussels’ for the leaks and lingering scepticism, before claiming that ‘All of these acts have been deliberately timed to affect the result of the general election that will take place on 8 June’.
Attempts to sway national elections are certainly in vogue after the fiasco that continues to engulf Donald Trump and his relations with Russia, but closer to home the British people can look towards May’s own Conservative Party, who were recently fined a record sum for failing to accurately declare the full extent of their campaign spending before the general election in 2015.
More than £275,000 in campaign spending was left unreported, and the Electoral Commission hit the Tories with a record £70,000 fine, citing their ‘unreasonable uncooperative conduct’ during the investigation and stating that the excess money – much of it spent in an attempt to swing key constituencies – led to the ‘realistic prospect of its candidates gaining a financial advantage over opponents’. Twenty Conservative MPs remain under criminal investigation by sixteen police forces, in what amounts to the biggest investigation into electoral fraud in British history.
May’s unwarranted and self-involved accusation of EU election meddling was criticised by Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon, who tweeted:
‘UK needs best possible Brexit deal and has limited leverage, so for PM to poison atmosphere for partisan reasons is deeply irresponsible. Having called election for reasons of party not national interest, PM now seems intent on fighting campaign in same way.’
and by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said:
‘By winding up the public confrontation with Brussels, the prime minister wants to wrap the Conservative party in the union jack and distract attention from her government’s economic failure and rundown of our public services.’
But as she sought to threaten and sow division, May did not confine herself to the EU. After so much of her party bullied, cajoled, and hoodwinked their way to victory in last year’s referendum, and after May herself claimed that ‘no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal’ as the country continues to push and pull its way out of the EU, now she warned of ‘serious consequences’ if Brexit talks fail altogether, which would be felt most by ‘ordinary, working people across the country’.