Theresa May is impressive. Her Tory party conference speech, and the conference which she was presiding over, managed to capture the hearts and minds of pretty much all the media and her colleagues. She also managed to be hard right wing AND hard left wing at the same time whilst pretending that it was all happy centrist politics.
How can this be? How can she manage to be both hard right and hard left in less than a week, perhaps hard right and hard left in less than an hour? Or even, less than a minute?
The hard right is pretty straightforward. There sits Amber Rudd, someone who manages to look a cross between Ian Beale’s ex-wife in EastEnders and Andrea Leadsom, telling people that the problem is that she can’t talk about immigration because it is racist to do so. She did this whilst on the radio, which shows you can talk about immigration. But she also used almost identical wording to a certain Mr Nigel Farage the leader/former leader/temporary leader/UKIP deity/nutjob [delete as currently appropriate] used in his 2013 speech to his conference of swivel eyed loons. She even managed to go further by calling for stars to be worn on the sleeves of businessmen who employ Johnny Foreigners to single them out for special treatment. OK, maybe not that far, but not far off.
Theresa May was in on it too telling people that:
“if you’re one of those people who lost their job, who stayed in work but on reduced hours, took a pay cut as household bills rocketed, or – and I know a lot of people don’t like to admit this – someone who finds themselves out of work or on lower wages because of low-skilled immigration, life simply doesn’t seem fair.”
In saying this, she has actually managed to blame people who helped fill the skills gap and staff shortages, who have been honestly earning a crust and contributed to paying tax and boosting UK GDP for the failure of others to get a job. This sleight of hard right wing hand changes history by ignoring the dreadful greedy laissez faire policies that led to an unregulated banking collapse of historic proportions and instead blames it on the little, but foreign – probably tanned – guy, who was just trying to make ends meet for his family or himself.
Enoch would have been proud of how close some of these sentiments mirrored some of his less famous articles. Don’t believe me, just read the hyperlink.
Then there was the hard left of this. Talk of distrust of Europe, taking back control of British democracy and of foreigners taking British workers jobs. This is the talk of the likes of Tony Benn, George Galloway and Gordon Brown.
Then there is the hard right view of economic prosperity. Use multinational energy companies to build the nuclear power plant at Hinkley, the worlds most expensive even construction project, rather than rely on solar or small energy generation. Allow those charming Americans to come and frack for shale gas even when concerns over local pollution, earthquakes and CO2 emissions are still not explained away. Scrap those pesky windfarms and solar panels even at a time when solar, for the first time, has taken over from coal as providing the most energy to the national grid.
But then there is the hard left. She manages, like Red Ed Miliband, to have a go at the (privatised by a Tory government to be more competitive) energy sector for being too much of a monopoly and uncompetitive AND has the gall to attack, the former publicly owned and sold off by a Tory government, British Telecom, for being a monopoly and not providing better rural broadband. That’s a call to renationalise these services to make them work better for those ‘ordinary hard working families’ she drones on about or at the very least for much heavier state regulation in the workings of the private sector.
Then there is society as a whole. In her words she wants to:
“Put fairness at the heart of our agenda and create a country in which hard work is rewarded and talent is welcome. A nation where contribution matters more than entitlement. Merit matters more than wealth.”
Did you notice that? Merit matters more than wealth. A Conservative Party leader telling delegates that merit matters more than wealth and getting away with it. For if that really were true and that she really did mean it then the changes in British society would be far more profound than Brexit. It would mean 100% inheritance tax. Scrapping of fee paying schools. Ending of private health care. Abolition of the monarchy. Seriously hard left stuff.
On top of this is spotting and understanding the language that is used. Both the hard left and hard right use negativity to get their voices heard. The hard right uses fear. Fear of immigrants. Fear of change. Fear of crime or drugs. Fear of young people and of new technology. Fear of unusual stuff and things that you don’t already know. The left uses hate. Hatred of posh people. Hatred of change (notice it happens in both groups). Hatred of those who make it on their own merit and don’t stay true to their working class roots. Hatred of Tories and those who disagree with their views.
This is in stark contrast to centrists who use a message of hope, change and optimism. It is no coincidence that the likes of Obama – probably the greatest centrist politician of our time had slogans around hope and change. Even lesser centrist politicians like Blair and Cameron and even Major used hope as a beacon to work towards. And it is no coincidence that May and Trump and Corbyn and Le Penn and Farage use the language of fear and hate to rally their troops and push forward their ideals and their beliefs.
This shift shows we have entered a dangerous time. When May declares that it is “Time to reject the ideological templates provided by the socialist left and the libertarian right and to embrace a new centre ground” we all should start to feel the earth moving under our feet. For that centre ground is one of the far flung extremes of both right and left of politics. One that has been the stomping ground of UKIP, the BNP, Britain First, the Socialist Worker, Respect Party and the Trade Union Socialist Coalition. But not anymore. May, the unelected Prime Minister, whose manifesto for fear and hatred has never seen the scrutiny of the ballot box has planted her tanks firmly on their lawn and, it seems, the media and you, the public, love it.