Forget Jeremy Corbyn. Marxism is on the march in May……

“The two things I hate most,”declared Theresa May in her closing speech to the Tories this week in Birmingham, “are the socialist left and the libertarian right”. A largely dozy and contented audience, gazing reverently at the second powerful woman to command them in their membership lifetimes, may not have noticed that, by embracing the Hegelian Dialectic, Mrs May was signaling that they had been landed with a Marxist as their leader.

“A change is going to come,” she went on. Uh oh. This change was inevitable – this was text book stuff. Inevitable, because of the “revolution” that had taken place when Britain voted for Brexit back in June. It is true that Mrs May qualified this revolution with the adjective “quiet” – the Tory faithful are, after all, the sort of people who only like to see the established order overthrown within the limits of neighbourhood noise restrictions, and where any blood running in the streets is treated with sand to avoid pensioners slipping over – but her insurgent political philosophy could not have been more emphatic. The Prime Minister is said to lean heavily on the policy advice of Nick Timothy, the more heavily bearded of her two chiefs of staff. Some people have commented on the likeness of Mr Timothy to the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, the High Tory Victorian statesman and three times prime minister. There is, however, another 19th century political thinker whom he even more closely resembles.

That Mrs May should establish herself as the conference darling was never in doubt. For one thing, it is a sinecure traditionally reserved for blonds: Margaret Thatcher, Michael Heseltine, Boris Johnson have all had their turn and only Boris remains to be dragged reluctantly from the carousel. Yet she is also the commentators’ darling – a rich seam of speculation, creation and contriving, not to mention a diversion from the constant task of writing about Jeremy Corbyn’s reshuffles. For all the supposedly liberating powers of social media, politicians only truly exist in the public consciousness through the parodies created for us by political journalists; and with the unknown Mrs May, they have hit upon a little winner.

Even so, they struggle. The Prime Minister is tricky to define: the Remainer who wouldn’t campaign for Remain; the Leaver whose leavishness refuses to penetrate beyond a robotic slogan. Mostly they turn to Hegel themselves. Mrs May is the antithesis of David Cameron and George Osborne: her every nuance and syllable the disavowal of their legacy. Yet, how exactly is Mayism the repudiation of Cameroonism? The conference slogan in Birmingham this week was “A Country that Works for Everyone”, hardly that different from Mr Osborne’s “We’re All in it Together”. Maybe it is a matter of audience: if it was the Cameroon mission to make Conservatism palatable to Notting Hill dinner parties, Mrs May seeks to proselytise among the just managing of the Balshall Heath takeaway kebab queue.

It is easy to catch the habit. One noticed, for example, the stripped down simplicity of the Birmingham backdrop – a plain blue background (from which, incidentally, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, struggled to materialise when it came to his turn to speak) in which the words “A Country that Works for Everyone” were picked out in small black caps. Gone was the Tory tree – the re-branded party logo over which Mr Cameron made such a hoo-hah when he brought it in. This was as much a policy as a marketing statement. The tree represented Mr Cameron’s one-time fetish for environmentalism. It is out the back now, where the twin chiefs of staff are setting fire to it, and relishing the CO2 emissions.

Political opponents have diagnosed a lurch to the right (“lurch” is the verb de rigeur in these circumstances: parties never move or glide across the political spectrum; they always lurch). Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon were both quick to condemn the Conservative focus on immigration – a focus most evident not in Mrs May’s speech but in that of Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, who wants companies to keep a little list of foreigners on their books, though to what end wasn’t entirely clear. (The agony columns of the Financial Times quickly filled up with angst at this proposal.) Far less noticed was the lurch to the left. “Government can and should be a force for good”, the PM said, “the state exists to provide what individual people, communities and markets cannot”. It wasn’t just Cameroonism that was copping-it, but Thatcherism as well. “There is more to life than individualism and self-interest”, she declared. There is such a thing as society. For Mrs May, The Road to Serfdom is a road well-travelled.

In all this, Labour was portrayed as “the nasty party”, a rare glimpse of the Prime Minister in self-deprecating mood, for, of course, it was she who had once described the Tories thus, way back in the days when she was still reading Das Kapital rather than enacting it. Labour though was relatively un-nasty this week, with only the one minor purge, that of the Party’s long-standing chief whip, Rosie Winterton, who had crossed Mr Corbyn on the matter of electing members of the shadow cabinet. Nastiness was rife in the Brussels Parliament though, where the appropriately-named UKIP MEP Mike Hookem may or may not have taken a swing at the Party’s putative next leader, Steven Woolfe. The latter ended up first on the floor and then in hospital.

Mr Woolfe has an unusual campaigning technique when it comes to UKIP leadership elections. Last time he forgot to put in his nomination papers, and when the process is re-run three weeks later – the previous leader having lasted 18 days – he approaches the matter first by wondering out loud about defecting to the Conservatives, and then supposedly getting punched in the head over it. That is the allegation anyway. In the Alice in Wonderland world of UKIP politics, nothing really makes sense or is at it seems. The only certainty is that Nigel Farage either is the leader or is about to be the leader once again. He currently occupies that role in an “interim” capacity – visiting Mr Woolfe in hospital while he lies there working out which contestant on The X-Factor he is going to kidnap and hold to ransom as the next manoeuvre of his leadership challenge.

 

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