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Theresa May offers all the reassurance of Despair.

May 16, 2017


One of John Cleese’s finest moments in screen is to be found in the movie Clockwise (1986).  As someone who hates being late for anything for any reason, I found the film quite hypnotically painful to watch.  Cleese plays a control-freak headteacher who will stop at nothing to arrive at a headteacher’s conference in a timely fashion.  After various misadventures he eventually gives up, checks into a monastery, and achieves a kind of calm.  Then out of nowhere the merest possibility of getting to the conference on time presents itself, and the agony is re-instated.  In the most important line in the film, Cleese exclaims:

“It’s not the despair… it’s the hope!”

Despair is perversely comforting.  Despair dispels the fear that is a necessary and defining feature of hope.  When you despair, you surrender into a kind of addictive lethargy, seduced by the predictability of the bleakness that opens up before you.

When Theresa May repeats “strong and stable” over and over again, she’s reinforcing her utter contempt for the British electorate with something like a tautology.  Essentially, the very presidential style Tory campaign is carrying the message – “Give Theresa May lots of power – because then she’ll have lots of power.”

“Remove uncertainty” is another important Tory slogan right now.  You  could try arguing that without “uncertainty”, no form of creative or intellectual  excitement is possible.  You could suggest that the removal of uncertainty entails the complete negation of the human spirit and ruthless crushing of anything inspirational that’s been associated with any kind of “life force”.  Humans who cannot live with uncertainty are committed to being lesser beings.

The drab predictability that “strong and stable” evokes has nothing to do with the actual motives of Theresa May or her government.  Since 2010, Cameron and May governments have repeatedly U-Turned on any number of issues.  Theresa May has converted from being a cautious remainer to a hard leaver in the space of a few months without any word of real explanation.  The very decision to hold this election is in direct violation of a very explicit commitment not to.  Theresa May is, meanwhile, a peculiar kind of avowedly religious person (King Charles I was just such another) who seems to feel that their special hotline to God exempts them from having to keep faith with mere mortals.

Yet Theresa May continues to score highly on “trust” issues across the board?  Perhaps it’s not that she’s trusted to keep her word, or to tell the truth, but that her very untrustworthiness is predictable.  She will slap the British people where they’ve already been slapped.  She will superimpose bruises on top of bruises.   Living standards for most will continue to decline, the cherished NHS will be sold off to wealthy Tory donors, and people will have to work longer hours in worse conditions and with fewer protections than at any time since the Second World War – despite vague promises to the contrary.  In Baudrillardian terms – the Tory betrayal will not take place – because it’s so predictable that it’s hardly going to be a real time event.  It is foreclosed.

So, as Satan once observed… “Farewell hope, and with hope farewell fear.”   Many of the policies championed by “progressive” parties command popular, indeed majority support, but realising these policies will excite fears proportionate to the hopes entailed.  It’s not so much “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t” as “better the devil you know than the false saviour who might disappoint.”

The most depressing demographic that pollsters are reporting involves the defeatist remainers.  A number of polls have shown that those who regret Brexit may well outnumber those who rejoice at it, but that a clear majority of people think that Brexit is irreversible and we have to “get on with it”.  In other words, Brexit is bleak and bad but there is no hope of avoiding it.  This is the constituency that May is trusting will swing the election decisively.  She is planning to win this election by robbing people of hope and tranquilising them with soporific despair.

May’s government is of course government of millionaires, by millionaires for millionaires.  They have no concept of a “national interest” because they regularly enrich themselves by betting against the British economy just by pressing a few buttons.  Whether or not Britain “succeeds” is irrelevant.  Controlling the narrative of Britain’s failure and identifying convenient (foreigner, “remoaners”, “saboteurs”) people to blame is their main concern.

At the present time, the franchise is not limited to millionaires and so the rhetoric of British “national interest” must be screeched at a volume that is in direct inverse proportion to the betrayal of any such interest.  And this interest is increasingly being pitched at a peculiarly masochistic sentiment – the sentiment that prefers predictable suffering to the unknown.  It’s not that most Britons are masochists – only that a mood music of grim resignation that evokes the mood music of John Cleese in Clockwise and which can translate into crucial votes on election day.

It helps of course that Britain has undergone “landmark” votes every year since 2014, creating a weariness with the very possibility of transformative  electoral change that plays straight into May’s hands.

“Beat us up, Theresa May.  Just get it over with.”


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