Mrs May’s Parliamentary manoeuvres show that we know who wears the leather trousers….

In the heart of London’s exciting Brexit theatreland, two shows went on an extended run, serving up work for the show-going public that was, in the idiom of modern drama, neither short nor gladdening nor comprehensible. Of the Supreme Court’s production Enemies of the People, one reviewer, Isabel Hardman of the Spectator said that it was “like an academic Oxford law seminar”. It seems unlikely that Ms Hardman, an English Literature graduate from Exeter University, has ever attended an academic Oxford law seminar, but you knew what she meant. Theatre criticism is full of critics comparing productions to other productions they haven’t seen or, perhaps more likely, fell asleep half way through.

The Supreme Court is an upstart little company that has set up shop on the other side of Parliament Square from the Palace of Westminster Varieties. It was struck from the bosom of that vaudeville seven years ago by the noted impresario Tony Blair. Its origins lie in the days when performing troupes had evocative and slightly sexy names such as Lord Strange’s Men or the Admiral’s Company or the Law Lords. For many years it plied its trade within the Palace itself, much as the Cottesloe nestles within the National Theatre. It would put on obscure productions that nobody much wanted to see, paid for from the public purse, and quite often attacking the government of the day. No one seemed to mind, and even the Daily Mail would barely notice. Suddenly, however, the Supreme Court has found itself with a commercial proposition on its hands, and it has fallen down.

Wall-to-wall coverage of the Government’s appeal against the lower court’s ruling (which is also called the High Court) that it should be Parliament rather than the Prime Minister who pulls the trigger on Article 50, proved somewhat disappointing.  Alan Ayckbourn it ain’t. An endless succession of rather boring men made an endless succession of rather boring points. One longed for something in the style of Samuel Beckett to elevate this sludge with an injection of vivacity and charm.

Surely it is to escape this kind of prosaic legalism that we are trying to get out of the European Union in the first place. The people want a return to the simple days when disputes were settled by one Anglo-Saxon chopping off another’s arm with an axe. Unwigged, their grey heads dipping and nodding above their grey suits, the court looked like any other bunch of standard issue Eurojustices, holed up in The Hague or Luxembourg, or somewhere else equally unspeakable.  Not only were the Supremes bare-headed, they did not wear their gold dressing gowns in which they had been collectively photographed – the print appearing in all good judge-baiting newspapers. Clearly this garb is for ceremonial purposes only, or for when one of the justices wishes to avoid detection while standing in Donald Trump’s lift.

The court rose in the same sort of unremarkable manner that it had sat down in the first place, and we shall not hear what it thinks until the new year. The Telegraph claimed to have discerned that the verdict against the Government will split 7-4, closer than is otherwise anticipated, though the story seemed so flakily sourced as to constitute almost fake news. It would be an odd indictment of four of what we are told are the country’s cleverest people is that is the way it goes, since we had been assured earlier in the week by counsel for the Welsh government that the UK government’s case was so inept that a child of six could see past it. A child of five one presumes would therefore be completely flummoxed (one learns to split these sort of hairs after watching a week of this stuff). If nothing else therefore, we should learn something important from all this about the mental age of our top judges.

Back on the other side of the Square, the court’s proceedings seemed to have been rendered more or less irrelevant through the Government putting down its own amendment to a Labour motion, inviting the Commons to invite Mrs May to go ahead and pull the trigger when she wants to – that is by the end of March next year.  The Prime Minister is held to have been rather smart in manoeuvring her enemies – that is the Conservative Parliamentary party – to sign up to this, though Ken Clarke remained solidly unmanoeuverable, like a walrus.  The Commons assented to the Prime Minister’s  proposition with a handsome majority, causing the Daily Mail the following day to announce the vote as “The Day MPs Spoke for Britain”. From next year onwards therefore, we should get a two day holiday around now, to commemorate two momentous events on the trot: the day MPs spoke for Britain, closely followed by the day the Daily Mail wrote something nice about MPs.

All of this seemed of only limited significance compared to the row that blew up over the Prime Minister’s leather trousers. The first thing that needs to be said is that this is not the sort of thing that would have happened in Anthony Eden’s day. It is not until perhaps Edward Heath that we started to have prime ministers whom it might be possible to imagine wearing leather trousers.

The trousers came up, as it were, because the PM wore them while conducting a newspaper interview. While Mrs May may be shy of making policy statements, fashion statements tumble from her like the water careering over High Force.  A soft feminist who likes occasionally to portray herself as hard, she goes all mushy in her principles when it comes to getting people to talk and write about what she wears. It distracts them from talking or writing about what she thinks.

That the leather apparel have been talked about was confirmed by Nicky Morgan, the former education secretary. “They have been discussed”, Mrs Morgan said, offering a solemn insight into the goings on of the latest meeting of the Theresa May Denigration Society. Mrs Morgan and her co-denigrationists apparently consider it unlikely that anyone with expensive tastes in clothes can have any insight into or empathy with the lives of the Just About Managing classes to whom we must these days all defer. Her lower half encased in expensive brown leather, Mrs May’s entire political credo is thus rendered vacuous and hypocritical, or, as unkind critics might put it, rendered rather Nicky Morgan.

One might have expected this kind of facile class warfare to have emanated not from a fellow Conservative, but from, say, Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour leader has not been heard from however in a couple of weeks. Presumably he is still in official mourning for Fidel Castro. Besides he cannot be said to possess the rank envy that afflicts Mrs Morgan, a Just About Managing erstwhile corporate lawyer. “I never spent £1000 on anything except my wedding dress”, she wailed. Clearly we must club together somehow to buy NiMo a pair of expensive trousers. Whether this should be done through charitable endeavour or through an extension of the welfare state shows where we must re-pitch the ideological divide.

The welfare state may, in any case, have other priorities since Mrs May revealed in the same interview that she does not have a professional stylist. She must, it seems, rely on her husband Philip for fashion advice. Getting your husband to choose your handbag presumably constitutes the epitome of Just About Managing. Tell that, however, to the truly impoverished – the single mothers on sink estates where absent fathers are also absent husbands and therefore not on hand to pop down to Accessorize to help them choose their earrings. How out of touch can you get?

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