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.