It’s not been the best of weeks for Theresa May. Her failure to break the Brexit stalemate and negotiate a deal with the European Union has been described as “embarrassing”, while former Labour leader Ed Miliband labelled the Tories “an absolutely ludicrous, incompetent, absurd, make it up as you go along, couldn’t run a piss up in a brewery bunch of jokers”.
In one sense, it’s hard to disagree with him. But to call them “jokers” is to undermine the severity of this government’s policies. Although it’s been conveniently glossed over by mainstream broadcasters, their vicious and unnecessary economic policies have been linked to 120,000 deaths since coming to power. Yes, we’re being led by buffoonish amateurs, who are making diabolical mistakes at one of the most critical points in the country’s history. But the liberal media’s tendency to reduce them to cartoon characters is dangerous and foolish - we only need to look at the rise of Donald Trump for evidence of that.
The characterisation of Theresa May as a weak and hapless leader is particularly damaging. Not only does it reinforce a simplistic and outdated perception of leadership (May is frequently compared to the “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher as if unwavering dogmatism is a positive trait), but it also diminishes her repugnant actions. Although she presents herself as a socially liberal internationalist, May was the minister who approved the disgraceful “go home” advertising vans in 2013.
And of course there’s her ongoing working relationship with demagogic sex pest Donald Trump, whose conduct would get him sacked from any other job other than “most powerful man on the planet”, which should continue to bewilder anybody with even the trace of a moral compass. Last week’s horror show episode saw Trump retweeting fictitious nonsense posted by racist hate group Britain First. Theresa May’s pathetic public response, that he was “wrong” but that the UK and USA’s special relationship “should continue”, was inevitably mocked by satirists.
But Trump’s evil comments and actions, and May’s continual refusal to outright condemn them, shouldn’t be treating as sketch material anymore. At this point, her inaction is tantamount to tacit approval. How many times must we repeat Desmond Tutu’s pertinent observation that “if you are neutral in times of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”? Trump isn’t just making threats anymore: today, the US Supreme Court ruled Trump’s travel ban on six mainly Muslim countries can go into full effect.
That in mind, it’s worth considering the multiple opportunities our prime minister has had to condemn Trump’s disgraceful behaviour and tyrannical policies. It’s become a cliche to reinterpret Martin Niemöller’s famous poem about German cowardice during the Nazi terror, but it undeniably serves as an apt illustration of western indifference to prejudice and targeted abuse.
Why? Because while Trump came for the Mexicans and declared he was going to build a wall along the border and “make the Mexicans pay for it”, Theresa May was signing off on a 13-foot tall barrier in Calais to keep out human beings fleeing war and terror in their own countries.
When Trump came for the Muslims and initiated a travel ban, Theresa May said she “did not agree” but refused to criticise the racist policy behind the ban. It should come as little surprise given May once proposed an asylum strategy for the UK where only the most vulnerable refugees receive any protection.
While Trump came for gay, bi and trans people, endorsing anti-LGBTI groups and homophobic candidates, Theresa May was constructing a governing coalition with the openly anti-gay rights Democratic Unionist Party. Over the years, she has also voted against gay adoption and against repealing Section 28, legislation introduced by Thatcher to prevent homosexuality being “promoted in schools”.
We could break this down further: Trump has proven himself to be a misogynist, a racist and a sex pest. He has waged war on anti-fascists seeking to defend their communities, the courts, the media and even the constitution his party claim to rigorously uphold. Theresa May’s current position is that all this can be overlooked due to our two countries’ much lauded “special relationship”, which is primarily built on a shared commitment to aggressively interventionist foreign policy.
Even if you overlook the two leaders holding hands and May’s comments about Trump being a “gentleman”, there’s much evidence disproving the narrative that she’s simply a weak willed leader who can’t stand up to him. After all, she went out of her way to attack Vladimir Putin and make Russia the bogeyman for her recent electoral struggles.
It’s time to stop making excuses for Theresa May. That she’s an incompetent prime minister with a poor grasp on international diplomacy is not in doubt. But rather than subvert Trump at any point, she has repeatedly shown a willingness to enable, and even imitate, Trump’s actions.
Whitehall sources reportedly told the Daily Mail today that Trump’s visit to the UK in February may still go ahead. If that is true, it’s a damning indictment of a prime minister who has lost what little credibility she might have had. Time will only tell whether another election is on the horizon and we have the opportunity to elect a more compassionate leader. Like many Americans did with Trump, we must make clear at every opportunity through word and action: she does not represent us.