On Eve of Election, Theresa May Returns to Her Default Position, That of a Grubby Racist Scaremonger with Contempt for the Law
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It was all going so well until Saturday. As I explained in my article, The Spectacular and Unforeseen Collapse of Theresa May and the Tories, Theresa May’s campaign was collapsing, after her arrogant belief that holding a General Election — despite repeatedly promising not to do so — would enable her to increase her majority and wipe out the Labour Party. She forgot, too, that although she spoke about securing a greater majority to strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations, her Brexit position was one of total paralysis.
She refused — and still refuses — to discuss anything about Brexit with anyone, in an increasingly transparent effort to disguise the fact that her amateurish government of deluded Brexiteers has no idea what they are doing, has made no real effort to recruit the people necessary to deal with negotiations (for what will, if it goes ahead, be the biggest bureaucratic task in history), and knows that it will be an economic disaster the like of which has never been seen. (It’s also worth noting that her claim that securing an increased majority will assist in her negotiations was a lie in any case, as her electoral majority has no bearing whatsoever on EU negotiations).
With Brexit off the cards, people’s attention turned, instead, to domestic policies, and as the relentless negative reporting — or complete absence of reporting — about Jeremy Corbyn gave way to an election campaign in which he was allowed to speak and to get his message across, it began to resonate with the British people in significant numbers, as those brutally silenced by Theresa May after Brexit — an evidently large number of the 16.1 million people who voted Remain, but were told to shut up after the referendum result — were finally given back their voice.
That enabled us not only to vent our frustration and fury about the insanity of Brexit, its unleashing of horrendous waves of racism and xenophobia, and the Tory Party’s evident drift to the far right to embrace this tide of filth, but also about the dreadful state of austerity in the UK, inflicted by theTories since first returning to power in 2010, through a relentless assault on the poor, the unemployed and the disabled, and the Tories’ undisguised ambitions to totally destroy the state provision of almost all services, including the NHS.
To add to this, May’s manifesto was a disaster, containing a proposal to fleece old people of all but the last £100,000 of their assets if they require care in later life — a proposal that may have made sense economically, but that was, frankly, insane to introduce unprovoked in a manifesto, and which generated a furiously hostile response from voters and the media, in huge numbers, that took her completely by surprise.
She then performed a clumsy U-turn on what the media had dubbed the “dementia tax,” and the damage was done. Voters like nothing more than confidence in a leader, and she was anything but, avoiding people with extraordinary determination, and ill at ease when she did have to meet anyone. Her coldness and cruelty started losing her support from the very people who were supposed to be safety in the bag — old Tory voters — while Corbyn’s message of old-fashioned state intervention to protect vital services and create jobs began sounding more and more attractive. Corbyn also grew noticeably in confidence, and it was significant that Labour’s plans had been costed, and that they secure mainstream support from economists — most recently, Joseph Stiglitz, who endorsed Corbyn in an article in today’s Guardian entitled, Austerity has strangled Britain. Only Labour will consign it to history.
And then came Saturday’s terrorist attacks in London, and suddenly the decline of May and the rise of Corbyn was disrupted. Amidst the sickening loss of life caused by deluded extremists — manipulated by cynical cowardly figures who send the confused and pliable to to do their dirty work, and who want nothing more than to provoke increasingly harsh authoritarian responses to their atrocities in the west, to further their desire for a clash of civilisations — May hoped for a sudden boost in her fortunes, although that was not so easily achieved.
Corbyn responded well to the attacks (as he did after the recent attacks in Manchester), and as did Sadiq Khan, the Labour Mayor. Khan also won a war of words — and principles — with Donald Trump, who shamefully got involved on Twitter, while May sounded opportunistic to many when, after insisting on a 24-hour break in campaigning, she used her opportunity to address the nation to propose a raft of new policies instead of merely sympathising with the victims, condemning the perpetrators, thanking the emergency services, and leaving with her dignity intact.
There was no bounce for May in the polls after Saturday’s attacks, although her declining fortunes seemed to have been arrested, but what is most worrying is the way in which she has since elaborated on the authoritarian nonsense she first came up with on Monday morning, a return to her favourite territory: the bleak, paranoid, authoritarian and relentlessly racist position she took when she was home secretary for six long and wretched years before her accidental rise to Prime Minister last July, as I reported at length in an article at the time, As Theresa May Becomes Prime Minister, A Look Back at Her Authoritarianism, Islamophobia and Harshness on Immigration.
in her speech, May said “enough is enough” and claimed that there had been “far too much tolerance of extremism” — a comment that doesn’t even make sense. Fortunately, there was sweeping condemnation of the inappropriate politicisation of her presentation, and, crucially, of her misguided policies, however much right-wingers lapped it up. Check out Theresa May, you know that ‘enough is enough’ is just not enough, a column for Middle East Eye by Peter Oborne, a Conservative commentator of largely unparalleled intelligence and insight, and Theresa May’s ‘enough is enough’ risks making the extremist threat worse, a column in the Guardian by Richard Barrett, a former director of global counter-terrorism at MI6.
In an editorial, The Guardian view on Theresa May’s plans on terror: they are wrong, the Guardian’s editors tore into May as she deserved.
Theresa May’s “enough is enough” speech is an attempt to reshape dramatically Britain’s policy to thwart terror after murderous attacks. Mrs May gave her most explicit pitch today to policing thoughts rather than acts. This is a bad idea. It rests on a strategy to counter ideology rather than one that counters terrorism. It penalises people for holding unspoken beliefs and promotes a form of thoughtcrime. Such a move would end up with Britain losing the fight against terrorism in a legal minefield of dogma and piety.
The editorial added:
Mrs May wants us to believe that we face a threat from doctrines that do not espouse violence but somehow mutate into terror by contingency. The conclusion of her speech is that a non-violent person who harbours anti-British, extremist thoughts – to be defined presumably by a future parliament – could be blacklisted, maybe even criminalised. This is a leap away from current policy, although Mrs May has been heading in this direction for years. It should worry us all. What of animal rights, ecological defence or anti-arms-trade activists who do not subscribe to violent belief systems when criminal acts – sometimes amounting to terror – have been carried out in their name? Will they be banned too?
Crucially, the Guardian’s editors also made reference to the situation in 1974, when draconian emergency powers were introduced, which, though intended to be temporary, became permanent, and undermined the UK as a nation with due respect for the rule of law — something that Theresa May, alarmingly, seems enthusiastic to emulate.
As the Guardian’s editorial concluded:
Have we learned nothing from our own history? Listening to the prime minister speak from outside Downing Street, it is troubling to conclude that we have not. The wickedness that saw ordinary Londoners enjoying a night out mown down in the street and stabbed in bars must not mean we trade too much liberty for security. More than four decades ago in October 1974, a terrorist bombing saw people lose their lives and scores injured within a week of a general election. A few months later MPs voted for the Prevention of Terrorism Act, containing emergency “temporary” powers so draconian they needed to be renewed yearly. What were meant to be crisis measures became permanent. Current legislation reproduces much of the earlier problematic law, along with more intrusive powers. The aim of terror is to scare us into changing the nature of our democracy. Promoting sweeping new measures with alacrity in response to terrorist acts is no way to proceed. Politicians should steer public sentiment on matters of national security. But they should do so in an atmosphere becalmed by reasoned debate; not in the frenzy of the final days of a general election.
Today, Theresa May stepped up her damaging rhetoric, in a particular effort to regain control of the narrative after days in which she has come under sustained scrutiny and criticism of her well-publicised cuts to police budgets — including her extraordinary appearance at a police conference when she told the police to stop crying wolf regarding their claims need for increased funding — and the criticism she has also faced for suppressing a report into Saudi links to terrorism.
The Guardian’s article, May: I’ll rip up human rights laws that impede new terror legislation, reported that “she was looking at how to make it easier to deport foreign terror suspects and how to increase controls on extremists where it is thought they present a threat but there is not enough evidence to prosecute them,” both alarming proposals, but proposals that anyone with respect for the law has come to expect from Theresa May.
As home secretary, she was obsessed — no other word will suffice — with deporting foreign terror suspects, even though the UN Convention Against Torture and the European Convention on Human Rights — to which we and all countries that claim to be civilised have signed up — prohibits returning any foreign national to a country where they face the risk of torture or other ill-treatment, and even though legal experts have repeatedly explained that, if someone has done something wrong, then they should be put on trial in the countries that offered them a new home. For further information, see my articles, If Abu Qatada is Guilty of Crimes, Why Not Prosecute Him in the UK? and Abu Qatada’s Release in Jordan Discredits Tory Hysteria About the Need to Dismiss Human Rights Law.
In addition, I am also particularly alarmed by proposals to “increase controls on extremists where it is thought they present a threat but there is not enough evidence to prosecute them,” as that feeds into the horrendous and discredited situation that the US under George W. Bush got itself into at Guantánamo, where, two presidencies later, people are still held because they are regarded as a threat but insufficient evidence exists to put them on trial.
That is always — always — a slippery slope towards a disturbing form of authoritarianism, but that is exactly what Theresa May wants, and what she stands for. She was a wretched, dismal and dangerous home secretary, but seems only to have brought her paranoid, undemocratic and racist baggage with her to Downing Street, placing it now at the heart of her empty worldview, as her colleagues continue to cause untold damage via the “hard Brexit” madness, and the entrenchment of austerity as the permanent driver of Tory policy, inflicting permanent and very deliberate damage on as many people as possible who do not have the luxury of being rich.
May’s authoritarianism frightens me more than anything else about her, as it is from such darkness that fascism can arise, but I continue to despair at her and her party’s obsession with as damaging a Brexit as possible, and to be appalled by the cruelty of never-ending austerity, and I fervently hope that the Tories lose tomorrow, with, preferably, Labour and the SNP having to form a government together, in which resistance to “hard Brexit” will be of paramount importance — hopefully, to the extent that it will eventually be derailed before it destroys us.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp).
He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
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