Opinion

Paul McNamee: Theresa, you're too late

She had three years to bring forward the sort of policies that would have helped the people of Britain

BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - JULY 20: British Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a keynote speech at the Waterfront Hall on July 20, 2018 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister is on a two-day visit to Northern Ireland. During her visit, focussing on Brexit and the deadlock at Stormont, she will visit the Irish border and discuss the potential impact of Brexit with Northern Irish businesses. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Theresa May has gone rogue. Or as rogue as Wheatfields May is going to go. As we slowly collapse through the last days of her reign, the embers flickering and spluttering over the moving crates, May is finally standing up and saying something.

Two weeks ago she looked at climate change, announcing plans to make Britain carbon neutral, with greenhouse gases emissions cut to zero by 2050. The plans were enacted in legislation last week. In a timely move, the French government did the same thing. And May said she’d call on all G20 leaders to follow.

In a separate moment, May launched into the housing debate. She called for more social housing and more tenants’ rights as part of an “ongoing housing revolution”. If only she had been in a position to do something about it earlier…

During May’s lacklustre premiership, new home building collapsed. In 2017-18, 6,535 social rent homes were delivered in England. This was a decline of nearly 85 per cent since the start of the decade.

Is Theresa May in the midst of some Damascene change? Or an attempt to lay down legislation that will really annoy Boris Johnson? Either way, it doesn’t matter. The bigger question is why wait until now? Why not do this, and other things, when she was not a dead duck?

She had three years to bring forward the sort of policies that would have helped the people of Britain, particularly those just about managing, those she said on day one she’d prioritise.

You could argue that Brexit paralysed everything, due largely to May’s miscalculation in calling a general election in 2017, losing a majority and being at the whim of the DUP and the Brexit-before-anything wing of her party. But that should not have stopped her standing up and trying to do SOMETHING! The looming danger with her replacement is that this is not going to get better.

Brexit is the only show in town, and the putative PM is not listening to warnings (in the last few days these have come from major industrial employers Toyota AND the Japanese government) over the consequences of a No-Deal Brexit.

Is Theresa May in the midst of some Damascene change? Or an attempt to lay down legislation that will really annoy Boris Johnson?

At heart is the mis-selling of an ideal. Brexit, I don’t think, is necessarily all about leaving the EU. That, as Alfred Hitchcock would have said, is the MacGuffin. Brexit is about believing things can be better, or rather that the poor state things are in will change. A fringe idea doesn’t become the core political identity of a huge part of the population within a couple of years because of deep political analysis. It grabbed hold because people felt remote and left behind. And Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt are being hugely, irresponsibly, inevitably misleading by selling the idea that Brexit on October 31 will fix everything. It’s in their interest to push Brexit in and of itself as some sort of democratic absolutism.

If they stood up with a plan for investment, with a truth about how austerity has hollowed out so much of Britain, about a way forward that doesn’t blame immigrants and said they understood the underlying issues around the Brexit push they’d probably not get elected as leader of the Conservative party. But at least there would be some honesty in play.

And incidentally, the same goes for Jeremy Corbyn. Britain could use an effective and clear-sighted opposition anytime now.

We need a PM with a plan, one who can genuinely help people and build growth, with radical thoughts and an empathetic means of working for those on the fringes, rather than punishing them.

Either that or we can hold on to rogue Wheatfields May for a while longer.

Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue  
@pauldmcnamee  Paul.McNamee@bigissue.com

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