May (The Force is still with Us)

May+shoesWe know her as the constituency MP of one of this blog’s authors. We know she has a strong sense of public duty and works her stockings off trying to fulfil that duty. What she seems to lack is a clear vision of how to achieve things that really matter. We don’t like to judge leading figures on their character but by their achievements which, so far, are negligible.

As Home Secretary she oversaw a big reduction in police numbers yet we now have rising crime, fewer prosecutions and more murders; this is very likely the result of her cutting resources under pressure to reduce the nation’s budget deficit when it might have been better to reform how they were used (in this instance the Force is against her). New York demonstrated an alternative but that way would not have lowered spending. We know pretty well how many crimes are not investigated because policemen spend so much time recording everything rather than doing anything about solving them or prosecuting criminals. This is the result of a measurement approach to management, an uninspired and ineffective way of reducing intangible qualities to numbers in order to set paper targets, which can usually be manipulated by those being measured. Instead of bobbies on the beat preventing crime they sit at desks recording numbers that their Chief Constables can present in the most favourable way. As one US general allegedly said of the number of Vietcong being killed, “In viewgraph terms we’re A-ok” – remember the outcome?

At the Home Office she didn’t manage to reduce immigration despite setting a target, yet this seems to be her main focus in the EU withdrawal negotiations, as though it were the only thing leave voters cared about. More likely she is focusing once again on a measurable target (although the way UK immigration is measured is very inaccurate). Her backers also focus on numbers, like GDP growth or unemployment, but they are mostly imaginary numbers of doubtful provenance.

theresa-may-jean-brodieMay has shown herself to be forceful, in fact bullying. She seems to take a long time to make a decision but then sticks with it, impervious to argument. This is not a sign of confidence, if she had clear objectives she would probably be more flexible about how to achieve them. Instead she seems to rely on the advice of her courtiers rather than listen to her colleagues and our chosen representatives. She has also become mistress of the non-answer when asked even straightforward questions; if she tried to find good answers she might be persuaded to change her approach when that proved difficult.

We hope Theresa May will soon return to what she is good at, working hard on constituents’ problems. Here are some arguments against her continuing in her present job:

Withdrawal poll1.      During the debate in Parliament May assured MPs that neither side wanted to enter the backstop arrangement but that if it was necessary they’d all want it to be temporary. The legal advice she has received says that there may be no legal way out, so it could continue indefinitely, with all its dissolution of UK sovereignty. If both sides want it to be temporary why wouldn’t the EU accept a time limit, say five years or even ten? To rely on good faith from the EU is crazy but even if we overlook the track record you wouldn’t put your head in the stocks and throw away the key in the hope that a kind passer-by will release you; it might happen or it might not but if it didn’t the outcome would be off the scale of dreadful. Indeed, however long the ‘temporary’ backstop solution lasts it will be dreadful for the UK.

Withdrawal method2.  The vote in Parliament to accept the draft Withdrawal Agreement (see our commentary in Draft Withdrawal Agreement: a Fatal Flaw and its linked analysis) was lost and currently looks on target for another loss at the next attempt. May is threatening MPs – and us – that it’s this deal or no Brexit because Parliament won’t accept no deal (the WTO backstop). Of course whether it’s her deal, no deal, or no Brexit, we may expect a new Prime Minister, a second referendum and a general election.

Withdrawal poster3.            May has floated the idea of a ‘Parliamentary Lock’ whereby the backstop can only come into effect if Parliament agrees, which is a bit better of course (particularly as seems unlikely that they would agree) but that would lead to a whole new negotiation that the EU are certain to reject, initially at least. Perhaps they will then insist on a staged negotiation whereby Macron gets his fish, Spain get the Rock and some other cherries too no doubt – surely the Germans won’t leave the table without something tasty. Obviously she’d fall for all that as she has done so far; it’s a proven recipe for continuing endless and fruitless negotiations – fruitless for the UK as the EU gets all the cherries again.

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