Maybotics: A Question of Leadership

What makes a good leader? What makes a bad leader? Whatever your own summation of this most subjective of abstractions, the vocal rumblings in Tory ranks suggest that Theresa May’s leadership is not ticking the required boxes.

In the sporting world, Bobby Moore, Martin Johnson, Steve Waugh and Kate Richardson-Walsh excelled as leaders: figures carved out of granite, with a relentlessness and iron will to succeed, supplemented by the natural talent to lead from the front, galvanise their teammates to excel and command universal respect. In the business world, there are the likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Elon Musk: pioneers of technological innovation that have shaped the world and its direction of travel for the better. The legacy of great military figures like Field Marshall Montgomery is assured.

Sports and business people have it easy though. Both work in results driven industries where merit is easily defined and quantified by the business of winning and making money. Military leaders deal exclusively in the cold currency of winning wars. Political leaders (in the UK at least) have it rather harder in terms of appraising success or failure: they fight a constant battle against party, cabinet, parliament, macroeconomics, extra territorial interests and the media. If they are not manoeuvring in the shadows, they are defending themselves in the 24 hour glare of the court of public opinion. What right minded individual would ever do it?

Look across the pond and the answer to this question as far as The Donald’s leadership is concerned could be a monstrous ego. As he tweets his way through the demands of global diplomacy, narking people, countries and entire continents along the way, the world looks on in a mixture of bafflement and horror. He has even indulged in picking a dangerous cock fight with a nutter on a nuclear mission. But take a step back and consider how Trump came to become POTUS and the qualities he showed to inspire nearly 63 million Americans to vote for him. Hilary Clinton described his supporters as a “basket of deplorables”. Watching Miriam Margolyes flatulate her way through the bowels of Middle America, it’s hard to disagree. But Clinton’s assessment missed the critical point: they were his basket of deplorables. And it exposed the shortcomings in her own leadership credentials as the dynastic product of the Washington Swamp who was neither liked nor trusted. Trump was the outsider who inspired one key USP: hope. The political acumen and sensitivity of his radar to firstly identify voter concerns and then mobilise them into an electorally winning force are stunning expressions of his brand of leadership, however much many abhor the output. Cross-reference this with Theresa May’s heroic fall from grace in managing to lose her Commons majority last year when it looked easier to secure a landslide, and the skinniness of her leadership credentials are painfully exposed.

Watching May in China last week as her backbenchers sharpened their knives on the Prime Minister’s “timidity and lack of ambition” and the doubts persist. Making riveting small talk as she sipped her lapsang souchong alongside her desperately dull husband and President Xi Jinping, it was only one cringeful step removed from Ed Miliband’s infamous bacon sarniegate.

May doesn’t have Trump’s ego thankfully. But what has she got? Doggedness, perseverance, resilience for sure. All fine qualities to a point but are these enough? What does good political leadership actually mean?

Ask people in the UK to name some paragons of political leadership and the likes of Churchill, Thatcher and Mandela would probably feature prominently.

A leader’s legacy will always be defined by the context of the time. Up until 1940, Churchill’s career had been chequered at best- a polarising character who wasn’t trusted, he crossed the floor of the Commons twice and as First Lord of the Admiralty was held responsible for the disaster of Gallipoli before going into self-imposed exile. The onset of the Second World War was very much a case of cometh the hour, cometh the man. The Falklands War of 1982 saved Thatcher’s bacon when her government was on the brink of collapse. The political clout of a military victory afforded her the strength to batter the unions into submission. Thatcherism emerged when it could so easily have been stillborn. Mandela was the light after the darkness of apartheid: one man’s struggle and dignity became the personified expression of a unified nation: the leader’s leader.

May’s context is of course Brexit. Given its awesome complexity and unique challenges, maybe history will say that she was the right horse for the Brexit course. Proof that perspiration triumphs over inspiration. Maybe. But given the Brexiteer promises of sunlit uplands in a post EU Britain, her own vision seems lifeless and insipid. Where’s the chutzpah, the zeal, the authority that exudes “follow me”?

Leadership is a delicate, chameleon intangible. Perhaps it’s just a case of you either have it or you don’t. The Maybot doesn’t seem naturally blessed.

 

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Army: Be Average

Or be ordinary, mediocre, humdrum, nondescript. Chuck in ambitionless and enfeebled for good measure. In fact, be anything you like if you want to join the British Army, as long it sings to the populist narrative and race-to-the-bottom philosophy of “inclusiveness” and is devoid of aspiration.

Being the best has seemingly now manifested itself as the filthy stench of elitism.

Thankfully Gavin Williamson, the new Defence Secretary, does not share the crackpot political correctness of Sir General Nick Carter, the army’s most senior officer and chief of general staff, who commissioned a £520,000 consultation on an army rebranding exercise. Since when were the armed forces- the instruments of effecting national security at the sharp end- suddenly beholden to the bigotry, prejudice and ignorance of the focus groups made up of Jo Public?

I am glad that the army prides itself on being the best. I sleep better at night knowing that elitism pervades everything that the army does; that only the best quality training and highest standards of military discipline and operational excellence will be accommodated. Why should it apologise for such qualities that other countries’ armed forces look up to in awe and use as a template for their own military standards?

Unfortunately, the utilitarian politics of one-size-fits all has become a very British psychology and one that is now corroding all aspects of life with its Marxist thought policing. In some respects, it is a very modern phenomenon; the language of Momentum and the red-hued disciples of Karl Corbyn. In others, it is the crystallisation of a “prizes for all” doctrine that has been espoused in state schools for many years. Artificial constructs of fairness and equality have been promoted at the expense of winners and losers born out of healthy competition.

Kids have been shielded from the Hobbesian reality of life depicted in Leviathan: that life is “nasty, brutish and short” and that people live in a state of nature that is “the war of all against all”. Admittedly the context of the English Civil War makes Hobbes’s writing a tad dramatic for 2017, but the reference to the innate competitiveness of life is explicit and enduring. The damnable mindset of “it’s not the winning but the taking part” has spat out swathes of adults that neither relate to competition as a tough fact of life, nor recognise it as a constructive framework through which to pursue excellence. Take it one step further and there is the whiff of entitlement that is usually associated with the elite and elitism. Ironic.

The result is Generation Snowflake: a bunch of Millennials who seem to take offence at everything, let everybody know that they are offended by everything and have the personal resilience of, well, a snowflake. These are the kind of dickheads who are offended by such notions of superiority and exclusiveness that, in the context of national security, are there to protect them. It is all the more remarkable that the army’s most senior officer is also the kind of dickhead that has been suckered by the Snowflakes’ spineless and perpetual whingeing.

Presumably an army built on the foundations of inclusiveness and non-elitist egalitarianism will include a smattering of Snowflakes. What betting that some day one of these will demand a “safe space” in the theatre of war as they vent their offence at having bullets whizz past their lugholes?

Wishing you all a distinctly average New Year and a decidedly ordinary 2018.

Pandora’s Box

I’ve never met Pandora. Nor have I ever had the pleasure of making acquaintance with her box. Ever since a pissed off Zeus sent Pandora down to earth on a revenge mission, poor Pandora has been lambasted as bad news. I’m not quite sure what she ever did to deserve becoming the courier of impending catastrophe, but I can only assume that Zeus was a male, sexist pig. Why should a woman forever be labelled as the ultimate shoveller of all things shit? Why didn’t Rupert or Sebastian get a look in with their box? Where’s the justice of gender equality in that? Who actually gives a fuck?

Depressingly, it appears that some pathetic individuals give quite a lot of one. The spirit crushing news this week that the Church of Sweden is advising its clerics to refer to God in gender-neutral language is matched only by the guardians of the French language imploding in the face of accusations that French is fundamentally sexist. Sexist.

According to Archbishop Antje Jackelén, head of the Church of Sweden, Swedish God bothering is antiquated and divisive in its use of such offensive terms as “He” and “the Lord” when referring to Him, sorry It, upstairs. The traditional “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost” is now a gender neutered “God and the Holy Trinity” in Swede. Turnip. I wonder if it also grates the female Archbishop that God was credited with a son. Maybe she could magic up a prodigal daughter to even things up a bit?

One commentator has questioned this absurdity on the basis that God’s gender determination has always been identified through traits of masculinity. Think Old Testament wrath. Whatever. The real absurdity lies in the pettiness of what is deemed “offence” and the desire to dismantle and recalibrate familiar societal norms and points of reference.

As for L’Académie Française, feminists have successfully lobbied it to reconfigure certain aspects of French grammar to make it more politically correct and gender neutral by embracing “inclusive writing”. Thus, titles, ranks and professions (which have always been assigned the masculine form of the definite article “le”) are now to be given linguistic gender equality with the feminine form “la”. Mon Dieu. Or is that ma Dieu now?

Presumably at some point in the near future ships, aeroplanes, cars and countries will be recast with the epicene pronoun “it”.  Men will no doubt soon be skewered by feminist fundamentalists for admiring the curves of their new sports car with the words “isn’t she a beauty”. The Guardian columnist Lucy Mangan once declared that she “crave[s] a non-risible gender-neutral…third person sing pronoun in the way normal women my age crave babies”. Fruit loop.

And you can forget hurricanes Harvey, Maria, Hugo, Katrina and their sexist, gender defined friends. Hurricane Storm please. Adam and his Apple, Achilles and his Tendon, Jacob and his Ladder, Montezuma and his Revenge are all peddlers of gender inequality and must be linguistically expunged according to the new doctrine. Such absurdity should not be given the oxygen to fester.

The sometimes constructive pitched battle on behalf of gender ideology is escalating into a grotesque and counter-productive cultural war; waged by the weapons of fear, pedantry and mindless political correctness and wielded by those whose zealous pettiness unwittingly undermines their casus belli. Where will it all end? When will Pandora close her pestilent box?

Priti Pathetic

Watching the faintly farcical Priti Patel saga unwind in real time as the media traced her every step back from Kenya to Downing Street (carrying her own bag with no pit-stop for duty free, poor minion) to face Theresa’s dismay, it was difficult to know whether to laugh or cry. Perhaps it was more a case of resigning oneself to the fact that the gangrenous rot that this enfeebled government is beset by has just consumed another juicy mouthful of vital organ. This will, of course, be celebratory fodder for many but such impotent dysfunctionality is hardly in the country’s short-term interest.

Whilst Ms Patel’s televised demise did not quite have the box office draw of the pursuit of O.J. Simpson by the LAPD in 1994, the political blood that is now freely flowing after Sir Michael Fallon’s resignation last week is likely to precipitate the delivery of Mrs May’s corpse as PM soon. The echoes with John Major’s administration are stark. Back in 1994, the Major government was haemorrhaging from one compounded crisis to another as the “bastards” on the Eurosceptic right wielded the knife after the Maastricht Treaty gutted the party from arsehole to beak. Sleaze and sex scandals competed for the limelight. Major’s personal ratings collapsed from the highs of 1992 as the satire of The Grey Man quickly gave way to universal vilification.

Major somehow managed to last until 1997 but I doubt very much that May’s life expectancy will be quite so impressive. Why? Major had a majority of 21 when he won the 1992 election. It wasn’t until the end of 1996 that the government was officially a minority. He delivered a victory for the Conservatives in 1992 that few commentators thought possible and with the highest number of votes ever polled for any party in a UK general election. What has the Maybot got going for her? She contrived to lose the unlosable election, personally butchering a 20 point lead in the polls and the government’s precious majority to boot. As falls from grace go, May’s has been heroic. Her party will neither forgive nor forget.

Like most things in life, timing is everything and you need a bit of luck. May is blessed with neither. Under the enduring spectre of flatlining Brexit negotiations and with the tricky Autumn Budget just around the corner, it is hardly her fault that the systemic sex pestery of the Westminster Village has now reared its ugly head at the worst possible time. Nor is it her fault that Priti Patel decided to embark on some freelance foreign policy, break the Ministerial Code and then try and cover things up. To lose one cabinet minister may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness. To lose three if the Cabinet Office inquiry proves that Damian Green has indeed been a very naughty boy could be terminal. And what of our esteemed clown of a Foreign Secretary? The bumbling gaffes which seem to have been brushed off as some kind of “that’s Boris” cuddly caricature have given way to hardcore liability. Too lazy to read his brief, the great mop haired tit has potentially condemned Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe to several more years in an Iranian pokey. He is denigrating one of the great offices of state into bywords for an incompetent shit show.

Patel had to be sacked. Johnson should be sacked. Green may yet be sacked. You could add Messrs Grayling, Fox and Clarke to the list for crimes against pointlessness and oxygen wastage. The trouble is, as Mrs May has discovered following her castration of George Osborne, Lyndon Johnson’s maxim that it is better to have rogue appointees inside the tent of government pissing out than outside pissing in, the political cost of wielding the axe in a minority government could be catastrophic. The thinly veiled menace behind Patel’s parting shot in her resignation letter that “I will also speak up for our country…and the great future that Britain has as a free, independent and sovereign nation”, is a measure of Patel’s arrogance that her disgrace has clearly not diminished her leadership ambitions; but it is also evidential of the PM’s china doll fragility from the backbenches.

The PM is damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t. Her political acumen points to a reverse Midas touch. Everything about her premiership seems to be turning to dust. Failure is now endemic and assumed. Whether she is the architect of her own precarity, the unfortunate victim of other players’ vagaries, or just on the sharp end of events, dear boy, events, there seems to be a compelling inevitability about her course.

It’s not pretty; it’s all rather pathetic. And the country is the loser.

Girls & Boys

“Girls who are boys
Who like boys to be girls
Who do boys like they’re girls
Who do girls like they’re boys”

When Damon Albarn and blur penned these lyrics in 1994 the references to androgyny, gender identity and sexual promiscuity were clear enough. The portrait of a liberal and tolerant society as a Heinz 57 melting pot of gender-bendering and indiscriminate shagging between anybody with a pulse. Bum fun for all and nobody gives a shit.

Challenging the traditional social constructs of gender identity is nothing new. The etymology of hermaphrodite can be traced back to the ancient Greek myth of Hermaphroditus and Salmacis who had their male and female genders bent into one, androgynous form. Ouch. In the 1900s, Coco Chanel set the tuts tutting by pioneering trousers in women’s fashion. Cultural icons like Yves Saint Laurent, Mick Jagger, David Bowie (via Ziggy Stardust) and Grace Jones pushed gender issues on to the mainstream conscience during the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. By the time Albarn et al came to write Girls & Boys, unisex clothing was a high street staple and the threads that yarned the modern patter that is “gender fluidity” were entrenched. Cool Britannia (I’m sorry) facilitated a wider cultural framework that empowered gender debate with the confidence and optimism redolent at that time in British society. So far, so good.

Fast forward a couple of decades and the debate on gender identity and its prominence on the social agenda has shifted seismically. Sally-Anne Huang, headmistress (no, no, no, no, no, headteacher please) of James Allen’s Girls’ School in London was reported in an interview with The Sunday Times as having stopped calling her pupils “girls” so as not to offend those questioning their gender. “Girls” has been replaced by “pupils” and “they”. “She” is also off limits, presumably to be replaced by the charmingly neutral “it”. Huang has since said she was misreported, clarifying that neutral nouns and pronouns are only used in the presence of a transgender pupil. That’s ok then.

Quite how society has conspired to spit out a generation of kids who are so confused by their genitals and their place in the outside world that they don’t know whether they’re Arthur or Martha is a ponderable that needs to be grappled with quickly. But whatever was said in that interview, it is illustrative of the full, corrosive force of political correctness that is crowbarred into all aspects of modern society as a default setting. Everybody has a drum with which to bang the rights of some minority cause or another. You used to be plain ol’vanilla straight or gay. Then it was LGBT. But with every new cause championed, perceived “discrimination”, by definition, runs riot. So it is now LGBTTQQIAP (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, pansexual if you please) to reflect a heaving smorgasbord of identity orientation. What next?

An accusatory “Is it ‘cos I is black?” school of quasi discrimination can now be peddled by any handy label just by virtue of the latest lobby group and a mass media that is desperate to be perceived as inclusive and above accusations of prejudice, regardless of whether the “story” has any merit in the wider public interest.

To be clear, diversity in its very essence is a core component of, and positive force for, any society that calls itself liberal. But as a society we have become obsessed by labels, slicing and dicing everything into defined silos from which the virus of political correctness can ensure that every minority “right” can be liberated and rammed down the collective throat. The unintended consequence is that society is now breeding a doctrine that actively facilitates the gender-bendering of kids at the expense of norms and ideals that underpin the origin and ultimate survival of the human species.

Live and let live. It’s the basic tenet of tolerance. Whatever shades of grey exist between the binary gender identities of “girl” and “boy”, I couldn’t give an intersexual’s beard. Let them get on with it. But the micro-aggression of political correctness of this and other “minority rights” issues is starting to feel like oppression of the silent majority. “Normalcy”, and however that may be defined in the modern context of gender fluidity, now has the suggestion of social heresy, ripe for the kind of positive discrimination that now percolates through employment practices.

The majority rights of girls and boys also need to be heard.

The Day Britain Lost It

Twenty years on from the terminal demise of the “The Peoples’ Princess” Diana, I still don’t get it. I didn’t get in then either. Watching ITV’s indulgently sentimental review this week of those events, toe-curlingly titled “Diana: The Day Britain Cried”, reran the time when “Britain”, as a sweeping and wholly inaccurate generalisation, totally lost it. Britishness was suddenly translated as incontinent, irrational hysteria.

The death of any young mother, and especially when killed in an accident, is a tragic circumstance by most yardsticks. That this particular mother was also the mother of the future King added special piquancy; that she also did a huge amount for good causes around the world raised the poignancy bar and sense of an altruistic life wasted in its prime.

But amidst the absurd and contagious hysteria of twenty years ago, vented by a blubbing horde of me-tooers (the vast majority of whose lives had most definitely never been “touched” by the Second Coming), it was conveniently forgotten that here was someone who was divorced from the Royal Family, stripped of her HRH title and who displayed a keenly honed and ostentatious talent for bedding various bounders, cads and Establishment-unpalatables. Her brother, Earl Spencer, described her as “insecure” and “complex” in his controversial eulogy; given the circumstances, these were appropriate euphemisms for an individual who underneath all that compassion was profoundly screwed up. “Brand Diana” was a wrecking ball for the monarchy at the time and the mischief making was evident. Her press rebukes sat alongside a Janus-like expediency to court them when it suited her purposes to do so. She was no saint, yet the British public set about polishing her halo as if a canonisation was in order.

The popular hypocrisy of the time remains breathtaking. When Earl Spencer’s eulogy referenced her treatment by the newspapers and her relentless hounding by the press and paparazzi, it was met with applause by the assembled throng outside Westminster Abbey: the same throng whose only aspect of Diana’s life that they had come in to contact with was the well-thumbed tabloid newspapers and glossies that had fed their insatiable appetite for salacious gossip at Diana’s expense and had kept those same paparazzi in that Paris death tunnel in lucrative business. I wonder if the perspective of hindsight now leaves any of those hand-wringing disciples red with embarrassment rather than angst. Some even branded the press “killers” at the time.

The delicious irony of course is that despite all the damage that Diana did to the monarchy in her later years, the legacy of her death is that she recalibrated the public’s relationship with it such that the monarchy has never been so popular. I doubt very much if that would have been in the script if she was still gracing us with her tabloid presence and carefully positioned television interviews.

The day that Britain cried? Nope, still don’t get it.

The Queenmakers

Thank Corbyn’s beard that’s over. History will judge this election to be of seismic consequence in its spectacular break from the UK’s 40-year-old neoliberal consensus. Enduring the campaign as a lowly voter though was an experience akin to death by a thousand cuts. Every time “strong and stable” was lobbed into the airwaves with its complacency and acrid stench of the-lady-doth-protest-too-much, I twitched with Tourettic compulsion.

Except it’s not over. Far from it. Having denigrated Corbyn’s potential “Coalition of Chaos”, May is now presiding over her own, self-made maelstrom of misery. The country is, at the time of writing, stuck with her and engulfed by a paralysing vacuum of uncertainty nine days ahead of Brexit negotiations formally kicking off.

She is still in government but she is not in power.

Power, and the real power brokers in this election, lie elsewhere and in corners of the UK that sit outside of the male dominated Westminster bubble: the cataclysmic fallout has been first shaped, and is now being decided by, women leaders. The number of women MPs has increased to over 200 for the first time in the new Parliament.

We have the unprecedented outcome of a female PM (mortally wounded admittedly) being first delivered and now propped up by queenmakers, both accidental and intentional. The chief protagonists have had profoundly different experiences of this election.

Theresa May: If the PM’s head isn’t quite yet served up on a platter, it’s on the block with the executioner’s axe being sharpened and readying for deployment at some soon. The political post mortems to explain her gargantuan screwing of the election pooch are already extensive, much of which have zeroed in on the failings of her leadership style and credentials, echoing what this blog has been saying since January after six months in the job (“DisMay: the PM six months in”, 9 January 2017). Policy U-turns, abject advice, a fundamental miscalculation in the pursuit of a hard Brexit and complacency over the likely behaviour of erstwhile UKIP voters complete a grisly tale of woe. But for now, she is still queen of her crumbling castle at Number 10.

Ruth Davidson: During ITV’s coverage of election night, George “Revenge Is A Dish Best Served Deliciously Cold” Osborne made the gloriously obvious comment that if it hadn’t been for Ruth Davidson’s leadership in Scotland, the country would be facing a Labour-SNP led coalition. Ms Davidson and her leadership style is the antithesis of Theresa May- warm, engaging, plain speaking and human, underpinned by a simplicity of message that resonated with Scots who “have had their fill” of being kicked around as a political football. If Mrs May owed amber Rudd a stiff G&T after going into bat for her at the leaders’ debate, she should leave the bottle for Ms Davidson.

Nicola Sturgeon: As own goals go, and for such an historically savvy operator, this one wasn’t quite the blooper delivered by the PM, but she too was found surprisingly wanting when it came to the orientation of her political radar. Whilst not mortally wounding The Sturge, the prevailing indigestion of Indy Ref2 has delivered her a well-directed slap in the pus. Whilst the SNP remain the largest party in Scotland by a solid caber’s length, The Sturge was outmanoeuvred by Davidson. Sturgeon’s obsession with independence has unwittingly handed Mrs May the unlikeliest of lifelines.

Arlene Foster: Out of nowhere, the politics of Northern Ireland are suddenly playing out in the corridors of Westminster. It makes a change from the usual ransom demands of the SNP. Foster has played on the primacy of the Union (note May’s latest references to the Conservative & Unionist party to give it its full and proper title) and other common ground. Political bed fellowship makes many understandably uneasy and there will be a shopping list of DUP demands as the price for support but May will have to pay it. She has no choice. Arise the queenmaker-in-chief.

If the general election has ushered in a new era of UK politics that rejects the cosy, centrist, liberal rapprochement of the Establishment in favour of confrontation on a wider divergence of the left-right spectrum, then it is women that will be calling the shots (for better or worse). And at a time when there are more FTSE 100 bosses called John than there are women leading our biggest firms, it is a noteworthy parallel.

Who knows how the next few days, weeks and months will play out, but the contribution of these hard-hitting female players to the theatre of British politics has been pivotal in delivering these historical lines. May has memorably fluffed hers, but, for now, she plays on.

 

P.S. In laughably stark contrast, spare a suitably disdainful thought for Diane L’Abbottomy. The aspiring Home Secretary of such painfully slow speech you can hear the addled cogs in her sloth sized brain grinding for answers; the owner of a fringe that is so stylistically offensive that it can only be masking the frontal lobe surgery that removed all semblance of political and intellectual credibility; the cannon that had become so loose that her ex squeeze and boss was forced to deliver her a sick note during an interview; the champion of the brain fart. Please Diane, do everybody a favour and scuttle back to the fringes from whence you came.  

 

Rudderless

Poor Amber Rudd was a lamb to the slaughter at the leaders’ debate last night. Fronting up to take this hospital pass whilst her supposedly all conquering leader was somehow “too busy talking to voters” at that time of night, was probably not what the Home Secretary had in mind to be doing following the passing of her father on Monday. Clearly “compassionate Conservatism” does not stretch to mourning members of the PM’s front bench when it comes to taking one for the Team (Theresa).

Rudd must have rued that the “personality cult” (in George Osborne’s embittered but accurate words) surrounding the rebranding of the Conservative party to “Theresa May’s Team” does not stretch to the eponymous hero leading by example and taking the fight to her rivals in public forum.

Her public hanging was made all the more excruciating by the fact that her panel of executioners were a rabble of some of the feeblest and hopelessly lightweight leaders you could ever wish to get stuck into. Going into bat without a box is seemingly still a perilous exercise even when faced with projectiles lobbed at powderpuff velocity.

In the election that she supposedly couldn’t lose, this campaign is unravelling rapidly for Theresa May. Ever since the shambles of her manifesto launch on 18 May, she has seen the Tories’ lead in the polls decimated from 20 odd points to single figures. Regardless of one’s views as to the reliability of opinion polls, momentum is running against Mrs May at a rate of knots.

Having made this election a straight fight between her credentials as a leader and Jeremy Corbyn’s, how on earth did her political radar come to the opinion that dodging last night’s debate was a positive act of reinforcing the “strong and stable” mantra? Even Jezza, seemingly invigorated by his time on the stump and notwithstanding his radio balls-up on childcare costs, threw down the mantle last minute and put those leadership credentials on the line. But May didn’t rise to the challenge. A challenge which she says she routinely puts to the sword every week at PMQs. So what was the problem? Voters don’t watch PMQs Theresa. They do watch national television though. Doh.

Gleeful calls of Mrs May’s cowardice, weakness, contempt and arrogance abounded with zero danger of such character assassinations being rebuffed with any authority in absentia. Ruddy toiled doggedly with her defence of her boss’s “record of delivery”, but she was pushing water uphill with a rake. What record of delivery? In nearly 11 months of office, Theresa May has achieved little more than nine policy U-turns (yes, nine) and some provocative sabre rattling at the EU. A model of strength and stability she is not. She just tells us that she is.

When Geoffrey Howe resigned from Margaret Thatcher’s government in November 1990, his Commons resignation speech said: “The truth is that, in many aspects of politics, style and substance complement each other. Very often, they are two sides of the same coin.” That devastating speech precipitated Thatcher’s downfall later that month as the substance of Thatcher’s policies and her style of leadership clashed with irresistible force.

On the evidence of the last 11 months and in particular the last few weeks of this pitiful election campaign, Theresa May is a leader of questionable substance and very little style. Even the hardly inspiring vision of leadership that purports her to be a “safe pair of hands” is now open to challenge.

With one week to go until “the only poll that matters”, Mrs May looks vulnerable and has shot her last bolt. Having made herself the trump card in the Tories’ election hand, it now appears that she has neither the depth of substance nor style of personality to wrestle momentum back.

She will be hoping that the “quiet of the polling booth” focuses wavering voters’ minds and she will probably still win, but her leadership is rudderless. Just ask Amber.

Strong and stable? Try Prince Philip

Amid the saga of Brexit and scripted monochrome drudgery of this most tedious and apathetic of general election campaigns, the announcement that Prince Philip is to retire from public life after 70 years of unflinching service as the Queen’s consort seems to have been swallowed as a passing footnote.

This is a shame. If you really want to see strength and stability (oh for fuck’s sake, not again) personified, then look no further than the Duke’s endeavours over that period: 22,191 solo engagements, 637 solo overseas visits, 5,493 speeches given and 785 patronages. The 95 year old Duke undertook official public engagements on 110 days of the year in 2016 compared to Prince William’s 80. That’s strength.

Obviously, the positions of Prince Philip and the Prime Minister are not analogous. Politicians are here today and gone tomorrow. But Mrs May would do well to follow some of the Duke’s MO: he leads by example and his virtues and authenticity are demonstrable by his actions. By contrast, regurgitating “strong and stable” on auto loop with no regard to the context does not make you so, even if the antithesis offered by the opposition may give the illusion that you are.

To hear and see Theresa May alone and wooden in front of drooling Tory activists in carefully scripted and choreographed set pieces behind a back drop of blue billboards emblazoned with “Theresa May’s Team” above an almost apologetic “Conservatives” subscript, makes me wonder who exactly is this “team”? Her cabinet are invisible, save for the odd fleeting appearance by two of the Three Brexiteers (hopefully Liam Fox has been politically euthanised by now). It is clearly a strong and stable team of one. Oh dear. There’s no “I” in team, but there’s a “u” in something rather less flattering.

Prince Philip has always been his own man and would also fit into Mrs May’s mould as being “bloody difficult”. But he is also part of a team with the Queen and has embraced his role with an authoritative blend of gregariousness, charisma, forthright views and sometimes devastating wit. He has connected with the British people.

Mrs May, on the other hand, acts as a lone wolf, self-styling herself as a one woman Tory wrecking ball. She is awkward, cagey, suspicious, evasive and weary of anything or anyone who could interrupt her stage-managed script. You only had to watch the excruciating performance of Theresa and her “Bin Man” husband on BBC 1’s One Show on Tuesday night to appreciate how unnaturally engaging interaction comes to her.

Far from being strong and stable therefore, the Prime Minister could come across as insecure (bizarre, considering her party’s lead in the polls). She has refused television leader debates; she eschews pressing the flesh with voters out in the unpredictable streets, preferring the safety of the hand-picked Tory faithful; local news reporters have been locked in a room and banned from filming whilst the PM undertook a factory tour in Cornwall; at a covert Scottish rally held at Clathes village hall in Aberdeenshire, Mrs May hid away from inquisitive voters as the venue had been publicly listed as a “children’s birthday party”; she turned up at a factory in Leeds only after the workers had gone home and spoke to invite-onlys; she allegedly refuses to take questions from journalists that haven’t been pre-approved and that questions are being pre-vetted ahead of campaign events. You get the picture.

This isn’t a demonstration of strong and stable leadership in the Western, liberal tradition. This is authoritarian, paranoid, brittle, control freakery that is more akin to Russia, China and North Korea.

Come on Prime Minister, take a leaf out of Big Phil’s book and get out there amongst your people and show some authenticity and personality. The electorate then might start to agree with your self-styled leadership credentials as credible in their own right, rather than as the least worst option.

Theresa’s 0.7%

0.7%. It doesn’t sound much does it? £13.3 billion sounds a rather bigger number in most contexts. Put them together and £13.3 billion is the amount that the UK spent on delivering overseas aid in 2016, representing 0.7% of the UK’s GDP. Oh. Ouch. Really? Afraid so. Just to add insult to injury, 0.7% of GDP is a statutory commitment enshrined in law, binding the UK to deliver such a sum in overseas aid every year. On the assumption that the economy grows annually, so too does the overseas aid budget, regardless of the country’s ability to pay or overseas demand.

The Prime Minister’s defence of the 0.7% is economically groundless. Whilst austerity continues to bite and constrain the public purse in its highest spending priorities such as the NHS and education, it seems clear enough that the UK cannot afford such a gesture of largesse. As a rich country, the UK of course has a moral obligation to assist the development of the poorest and alleviate suffering, but it more than pulls its economic weight here compared to other members of the G20. To put into context, according to the World Economic Forum and as a percentage of 2015 GDP, the UK is 7th on the list of top donors. Germany is 11th. Japan, France and the US are nowhere to be seen (the US was the largest donor in quantum terms at $30.7 billion, but equating to a measly 0.17% of GDP). It is unsurprising to see the Scandinavian countries (operating under the welfarist and highly globalised Nordic social democratic model) of Sweden, Norway and Denmark occupying 1st, 3rd and 5th spots respectively. Ruddy nice those Scandies.

Politically, the position is plain baffling. Brexit was a straightforward and explicit rejection of outward looking metropolitanism; a message delivered to the government to turn inward and look after its own. Preservation of a costly overseas aid budget disdainfully contradicts this protectionist message. It gives the impression of a government that, whilst strident and resolute in its mission to deliver a successful Brexit, is hearing but not listening on full volume yet.

£13.3 billion buys 38 hospitals at £350m a pop and 332 schools at £40m. And as this blog was at pains to point out in its “Anti-social, don’t care” post on 13 January, there will be a black hole in social care provision of £2.3 billion by 2019/20. These are all politically toxic issues that the government is struggling to deal with fiscally. For the vast majority of “hard working families” that the Tories claim to support, such issues are very real, very present and of very real concern; they transcend the liberal idealism of huge overseas handouts and are indifferent to the politics of Leave/Remain. Apart from a few star gazing leftie liberals, I can’t see too many Remainers kicking up a fuss over the remodelling of the overseas aid budget in its current, outdated guise.

To exacerbate matters, the Chancellor Philip Hammond announced that he may look to scrap a 2015 manifesto pledge not to put up taxes, citing the need for flexibility in managing the economy. So, let me get this straight. The Tories want to keep channelling billions of taxpayers’ hard earned wedge to faceless causes abroad (some of whom reside in North Korea and received £4m last year by the way), whilst retaining the option to put taxes up? Yup. Good luck selling that to the JAMs (“Just About Managing”) or anybody else who wants more bang for their tax buck. So, just about everybody then.

It makes for spectacularly dim politics.

That Mrs May feels she can get away with campaigning on a platform that is distinctly not grassroots Toryism is entirely down to the amoebic challenge posed by Corbyn and Labour. Jezza isn’t going to attack Tezza on the fronts of preserving foreign aid and the spectre of higher taxes, so he gets steamrollered. Again. But why does the PM feel she needs to do it? Some commentators reckon that it is to broaden the Tories’ appeal whilst the going is so good to cement a landslide election victory in June. I think the breadth of such added appeal is skinny and derived from the school of marginal gains.

In my last post, “May calls for June“, I suggested that Mrs May has a job on her hands to woo the 48% that voted Remain if she is to secure the majority landslide she so craves (and needs). 31% of that 48% voted Conservative in 2015; 39% voted Labour. Voters of either political allegiance are unlikely to take kindly to the preservation of the overseas aid budget, nor that they may be taxed more to pay for it. The 2015 Conservative voters will probably do the same again. But why does Mrs May want to score such an unnecessary own goal through such schoolgirl defending? A political clean sheet is what she needs to truly broaden her appeal.

0.7%. Such a tiny number. But for Mrs May, it could and should be a number of profound electoral importance.