Theresa May dreamed it would come to this. With the foresight of the truly fretful politician, she invoked the mythic links between Toryism and Unionism in her speech on the day she became leader of her party and the unelected prime minister of her country. She avowed, in that waking dream, that she was both conservative and unionist. Now, following a near-defeat in her first election in charge, she relies on those links to hold on to power.
She is assailed on all sides. Even her allies in the right-wing tabloids tentatively sound out Boris Johnson’s intentions. Colleagues deny any credible leadership challenge is building and yet, voices query the deal she has brokered with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) from Northern Ireland. It is difficult to put a good gloss on such a desperate scrabble to hold on to power, which increasingly looks like nothing more than a cack-handed attempt to make up the numbers.
She is also assailed by an opposition buoyed up by their near-victory. Jeremy Corbyn, the perpetual dissenter, led a leftward swing in London and elsewhere that surprised some and heartened many.
Pollsters currently compute the gap between the two parties with slide-rule micrometers.
Arrangements between the Tories and the DUP are on a ‘confidence and supply’ basis. Another such deal, between Fianna Fáil and the Fine Gael government in the Republic of Ireland, is tottering under the weight of the appointment of a judge to the Court of Appeal.
What exactly will be supplied by the DUP is far from clear and how much confidence any member of the Conservative Party, not to mind a general subject of the Kingdom, can have in such a deal is still open to question. What is clear is that differences between the parties on so-called social issues such as abortion, equal marriage and gay rights will be difficult to reconcile. A number of Tories fear that moves made under David Cameron, their leader prior to Theresa May, to perceptively liberalise the party brand, thus modernising it, will be set back by associating with a party founded by fundamentalist Christians which is currently beset by scandal – notably in relation to a renewable energy scheme that is costing millions to the Northern Ireland public purse.
There are also awkward relationships and connections with boards and chief executives in community organisations evidently linked to loyalist paramilitaries. The sight of DUP MPs parading in full regalia in this summer’s Orange parades, alongside bands with displays of loyalist associations, could knock back the confidence in any deal, regardless of what is being supplied.
One of the most significant casualties in the electoral gamble called by Theresa May and her now side-lined advisors, Ross and Hill, is the authority of the right-wing tabloid press, such as The Daily Mail, The Sun and The Daily Express. The readership numbers of those tabloids remain high but fewer and fewer people appear to have faith in their proclamations. How do you believe in readership numbers of newspapers frequently given away as a free-sheet at domestic airports?
Spare your concern and pity for the sidelined advisors. Sufficient information has entered the public domain, as part of their ritual scapegoating, to make clear that they are simply the personification of the Tory ideology that monetises and privatises every human function, including social care of the infirm, the needy and the elderly, by hoovering their assets into the market-place. Margaret Thatcher invited subjects into the property market many years ago with the promise that, as home owners, they would be rich, or, if not rich, then, at least, they would be able to pretend they were sovereign players in the market and not simply in debt to the mortgage-dealers.
What will be come of the dreams of Theresa May? Three conjectures then:
Firstly, the DUP will strain under the pressures to be powerful in both London and Belfast. It will fare better in the Irish city than in the English one, where it is privately reviled by members of the party with which it concluded the one billion pound deal.
Secondly, Theresa May will vacate the role of party leader, ideally by a process of consent, but that will depend on how soon the UK is tipped into another election (pencil the 19th of October into your diary). If the election comes quicker, she will be ousted by it.
Thirdly, Boris Johnson will not become leader, no matter how shrilly the headline writers and editorialists in The Daily Mail bleat. He is too firmly associated with the hard Brexit ideology, with its unfounded assertions of stability and strength that became the quicksand that mired Theresa May.
Will the lives of people be improved by any of this? Will the rapacious forces of casino-capitalism, avid for currency speculation, property capture and resource exploitation, be changed a jot?
Perhaps the tentative stirrings generated by Jeremy and the Corbynistas, fresh from their wow-fest gig at Glastonbury, will produce a fruitful outcome – a victory in the coming election. They will thereby put the chequebook in the hand of the bearded sexagenarian, who sang The Internationale on the night of his election as Labour Party leader, and who now strolls in the warmth of a London summer, resplendent in his modest white linen jacket, on his way to sup a cappuccino in the shade.
For both May and Corbyn, the old saw that it is ‘events, dear boy, events’, as offered by a previous Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, that blows politicians and their dreams off course. The conflagration at the tower block in Ladbroke Grove, one of the poorer parts of the Borough of Kensington, set a blaze under the crushing inequalities that characterise life in London and all metropolises. It turned Theresa May’s dreams of power into nightmares of human tragedy and loss.