Teresa May was elected by the grand total of 0.0004% of the UK population, just 22 Tory MPs decided in the end that May would lead the UK. Putting names to the faces of these sometimes obscure Tory MPs can be tricky and its often easier to put the name to the scandal. For example, one of the motley crew of 22 MPs is Oliver Letwin an antique from Thatcher’s time, it was revealed in 2015 in one of his private memos to Thatcher that he implied black communities have ‘bad moral attitudes’. Rob Semple is another name you might remember after he stepped down from the conservative party’s ‘bullying inquiry’ after he was repeatedly named by potential witnesses as the reason they wouldn’t give evidence at the inquiry. Lord Lupton also brought the Conservative Party negative media attention after allegations of cronyism were rife when he donated 2.5 million to the Tory Party and was subsequently turned into a Lord.
So far the media have failed to really pin down May and after 3 months in power no one yet has summarised her ideology or sold the public an interesting life story. Many media outlets (such as VICE News) have drawn the obvious comparisons with Thatcher, both have been called ‘hard women’ by people who have worked for them and both women went to Oxford University. However the rhetoric espoused by May is a sharp contrast to Thatcher, where Thatcher boomed ‘There is no such thing as political violence …there is only criminal murder, criminal bombing and criminal violence’ to men starving themselves over the right to not wear a prison uniform. May on the other hand has almost stolen the rhetoric of Corbyn’s Labour Party and at a recent press conference she spoke of ‘A vision for a country that works not for the privileged few but that works for every one of us, because we are going to give people more control over their lives and that’s how, together we will build a better Britain’. This speech was a calculated pitch that carved out political centre ground and often sounded like she was attacking the current status quo built up by Cameron. May even used Marxist rhetoric it noting that ‘it wasn’t the wealthy who made the biggest sacrifices after the financial crash, but ordinary, working-class families’, this grab for the aesthetics of the centre left is nothing new however and has been built up slowly by Cameron who showed that the Tories have learnt to adopt the language of social progress when it suits.
This new carefully constructed language of social unity is much more dangerous than the brash and hardened fighting words of Thatcher as through soft soothing sounds May is able to drip her poison into the political mainstream. At the ruling party’s conference May slipped in her promise that she would not ‘let those activist left-wing human rights lawyers harangue and harass the bravest of the brave’ this sounds like a promise to the military elite that war crimes will be happily overlooked and takes on an extremely sinister message when you consider the murder of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane in 1989 by a British backed death squad. May also borrowed the rhetoric of the growing British far-right and attacked those that ‘behave as though they have more in common with international elites than with the people down the road’. May went on to continually use the term ‘the nation’, ‘the national interest’, ‘the whole nation’ and ‘the wealth of the nation’, making continual reference to Britain as a single unit and the importance of the Westminster’s government’s role, here May rejected Thatchers devotion to the free market and instead made a speech that to many Tories 10 years ago would have been blasphemy, May praised government intervention in the market and tore down the altar to free trade that Thatcher and others had built from the 80s onwards. This is a stark reminder that the rhetoric and image of the free market was just that, image and rhetoric and it was devoid of substance or logic. Similarly to how Jeremy Corbyn tearing down the altar to Blairism, May is tearing down the altar of Thatcherism and has brought the Tory party back to its original ideologies of social conservatism above all else, law and order at any cost, traditional family units and the near rabid praise for the last scraps of imperial empire. This return to pre-Thatcherite Toryism is a return to the same bleak party that published flyers that read ‘if you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote liberal or labour’.
Sam Kriss the writer, makes the informed point that the left has now become so focused on fighting big finance and austerity that they have forgotten who they are fighting, that big business and austerity are just tools and tactics and that the right wing is about the power of one social class over the others. This domination of one class over another found its disguise in Thatcher, the rhetoric of the free market and the denial of society, and after this it morphed into the ‘balancing-the-books’ and ‘living within our means’ rhetoric mastered by Blair and peddled by Cameron, the exploiter class has now adopted May, her soft language of social cohesion and the rhetoric of anti-immigrant British nationalism while gently reminiscing about the halcyon days of imperial empire. The British right exploded as it went through a metamorphosis this summer during the Brexit referendum and after leaving a sitting MP dead on the streets has not just stolen the rhetoric of the centre but has also introduced the far-right into the now socially acceptable mainstream where lists are being compiled of foreign workers and Irish partition will be reinforced with a vigour not seen since the height of the Troubles. This same rhetoric poisoned Europe before after a decade long economic crisis, and if nothing else this speech by May and her actions as PM for the last 3 months should serve as a wake up call to the left, in Ireland, in Britain, across Europe and the world. We have seen this ideology rise before in Europe, except this time around it has a significant, wealthy and dangerous body of support across the Atlantic.