Thursday, 25 May 2017

Theresa May and the Cult Of No Personality

by Fenella Johnson

In a political landscape where a politician who claims she keeps her promises calls an election she promised not to in order to obtain a mandate she already claims she has for a policy she originally campaigned against,and she is still between 9-13 points ahead in the polls two weeks before that election-well,you might argue that the perceived public character of a leader no longer matters.You might argue that as long as a leader has no significant personality quirks,meaning that there is no chance of gaffes on the public stage,then you might argue that Theresa May (a woman so devoid of personality quirks she has been nicknamed the Maybot by some parts of the media)is the perfect candidate for Prime Minsister.You might do all this while casting an eye to America and the Donald’s latest tweet.After all,Jeremy Corbyn’s unique political brand of man who dresses like a geography teacher with socialist tendencies masquerading as Labour leader has hardly done his party any good in the polls.Theresa May’s weakness is her strength.She is very-and I’ll be blunt about it-boring.Her lack of personality is her greatest asset,because you can construct whatever image you want on it.

The image the Conservatives have gone for is ‘strong and stable’-one presumes her PR department was undaunted by the fact that someone who has just performed a U-turn over a policy in their manifesto has,at best,a shaky claim to stability.The Lib Dems-who are suffering their own leadership problems with Tim Farron-have been unable to pin the title of ‘lunch snatcher’ on her,following the removal of free school meals from the Conservative manifesto;perhaps,one suspects because the majority of the press are supporting her campaign.The Conservative posters on the campaign trail have chosen to campaign with her name imposed in sedate,large letters and the party she is leader of in typeface you have to squint to see.(Labour are performing a similar trick,but the other way round.)Meanwhile,on her campaign bus-the same she used while campaigning for remain,in case you thought that politics in 2017 was no longer doing the satirist’s job for them-her name is resplendent and her party’s nowhere to be seen.This allows her to operate beyond the brand of the Conservative party and the negative connotations that-for many voters-come along with it,allowing her to project an aura of safety .Remember:strong and stable.It echoes back to the 1924 General Election and Stanley Baldwin,the Conservative Prime Minister of the day,campaigning on the slogan ‘safe pair of hands’(something which May has often referred to herself as).Theresa May doesn't want you to think she’s exciting or is going to bring change-she wants you to think of her as capable and calm.

And it works.The real reason Theresa May called an election is because she knows she’s going to win:it will be a failure,the way things look at the moment,if she gets a majority that’s smaller than 60 seats.In the age of viral politics,in the age of reality tv show politics,where the USA decided Trump was a greater storyline then Hillary Clinton and Piers Morgan is a person who continues to be employed, there is something undeniably attractive about someone positioning themselves-whether it is true or not-as the antidote to all this.As sensible,safe.Again,that idea of being ‘strong and stable’.Theresa May’s buzzwords and slogans are not calls to arms-Make America Great Again!-but empty,factual.Brexit means Brexit,whatever Brexit means.

It pays off;Labour canvassers have studied that when Corbyn’s policies are shown to the average voter on the streets they garnered approval but when Corbyn’s name was attached,they became risky.Not economically viable.Much of Corbyn’s popularity rests on the way he has presented himself-whether it attracts you or not,it can be argued that there is a section of the Labour party,led by the rabid Momentum, who see him as a great leader.But what attracted that section of the Labour party,has been seen as unelectable by a much greater number.

If Corbyn has positioned himself as the anti-Establishment candidate,then May has not positioned herself at all.Her biggest scandal involves leather trousers.She likes cooking at the weekends in her spare time.Hers is the first personality cult surrounding a leader with no personality (and I am saying she doesn’t have a public one, not that she hasn't gone one)-and it is going to win her the next general election.

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