The Shimmering Ostrich just a few short months ago went to the awful trouble of putting together a template for any Theresa May speech. While her limited worldview and penchant for repetition shouldn’t have made this an especially onerous task, having to dwell upon and draw out her use of a few broad and middling, yet at the same time sinister and deceptive phrases – having to enter, if you will, into the stultifying mind of May – proved more than enough to make the venture awful all the same.
So we considered her bifurcating desire to ‘take back control’, first ‘of our borders’, second ‘of our laws’; the frequently enunciated but scarcely attempted dream of ‘a country that works for all, not just the privileged few’; her Trumpian attacks on ‘the people left behind by globalisation’; and her habit of prefacing empty words with a strong qualifier, her wit and integrity forsaking her as she vainly demands ‘let me be clear’.
But as if to spite The Shimmering Ostrich, May then went and called a snap general election, in the process ripping her playbook right up. The same ideas still tend to hover and circle, but she has decided that brevity – far from the soul of wit – is the essence of today’s soundbite-driven populist politics.
With just weeks before the general election takes place, campaigning has been reduced to two slogans: ‘Strong and stable leadership’ for the qualities May wants you to believe that she possesses, and ‘Coalition of chaos’ as a way of both denigrating and generalising the opposition threat.
May used ‘strong and stable leadership’ within seconds of her first stump speech in Bolton, generously explaining to the public that ‘strong and stable leadership’ is ‘what this election is about’. She used it three times in the first paragraph of her speech, and twelve times in total, on occasion already straying dangerously close to parody – stuck in a whirlpool of waffle or a vortex of utter vacuousness – as when she said of her government:
‘We delivered that strong and stable leadership, we delivered the certainty that strong and stable leadership can give. And that’s what leadership looks like.’
Moments later she introduced her second grand concept, identifying the ‘very clear choice at this election’ as ‘a choice between strong and stable leadership under the Conservatives, or weak and unstable coalition of chaos led by Jeremy Corbyn’ – never mind that Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Scottish National Party swiftly ruled out forming a coalition of any sort.
At the final Prime Minister’s Questions before the House of Commons dissolves for the snap election, May’s main slogan was used sixteen times. And just yesterday, when she was asked to explain Boris Johnson’s characteristically diarrhetic interjection, his onomatopoeic description of Jeremy Corbyn as a ‘mugwump’, she fell back immediately saying, ‘What I recognise is that what we need in this country is strong and stable leadership’, a leader who can only lead insipidly and by rote.