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.