Theresa May’s New Year Message – what being a Tory means and why she should be ashamed of herself

may-and-cox

Theresa May used Jo Cox’s words but couldn’t be further from her values

As I listened to “New Year 2017: Prime Minister’s message” I was reminded once again of how different Tory values are from my own. I was also angered by Theresa May’s shameful use of an out of context quote from Jo Cox, an Anti-Brexit campaigner who was murdered during the Brexit campaign.

I see Theresa May as a conviction politician who is driven by her values rather than pure political ambition. I believe she meant her New Year Message to be a call for unity and that she genuinely believes she provided a good argument for that unity. Her speech is an excellent example of how Tories see the world and the values they believe we should all unite behind.

The Prime Minister said:

I know that the referendum last June was divisive at times. I know, of course, that not everyone shared the same point of view, or voted in the same way. But I know too that, as we face the opportunities ahead of us, our shared interests and ambitions can bring us together.

This is the Tory view of how to address divisions in a nation, not through a set of policies that address the issues that caused the division but by acting on “shared interests and ambitions”. 

TORY VALUE 1:  the best way to unite people is to give them something to gain

The Prime Minister said:

We all want to see a Britain that is stronger than it is today.

Why would we want that? Britain is the 23rd largest country in the world in terms of population but the 9th largest economy in the world and the 2nd largest economy in Europe.   Britain is one of only 8 countries with nuclear weapons. Britain is one of the 5 permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. Britain is ranked as having the 5th  most powerful military might in the world and the most powerful in Europe.

How much stronger do we need to be to before we are strong enough?

TORY VALUE 2: Insatiable appetite for Britain to have more than anybody else.

The Prime Minister said:

We all want a country that is fairer so that everyone has the chance to succeed.

The nuances are important here. We want “fairer” not “fair”. We want everyone to have the “chance to succeed” not everyone to be have a living wage, access to free health care, support in their old age.

TORY VALUE 3: We must be seen to be a meritocracy where failure is the fault of the person who failed.

The Prime Minister said:

We all want a nation that is safe and secure for our children and grandchildren.

We are not one Nation. We never have been. The Scots want no part of Brexit. As for “safe and secure”, this is the duty of any government but here it seems to be being used as something we don’t already have. What is it that makes one of the richest, most militarily powerful and politically privileged countries in the world unsafe or insecure?

TORY VALUE 4: We’re only safe and secure when we are in charge and treat everyone outside our borders as a potential threat.

The Prime Minister said:

These ambitions unite us, so that we are no longer the 52% who voted Leave and the 48% who voted Remain, but one great union of people and nations with a proud history and a bright future.

If we are so united, why are the Scots trying to make a separate deal with the  EU and why is Theresa May only willing to have a vote in Parliament on triggering Clause 50 if the Supreme Court makes her?

The Prime Minister said:

Of course, the referendum laid bare some further divisions in our country – between those who are prospering, and those who are not; those who can easily buy their own home, send their children to a great school, find a secure job, and those who cannot; in short, those for whom our country works well, and those for whom it does not.

It’s not clear to me how the referendum revealed the divisions Theresa May describes. Is it the Brexiteers or the Remainers for whom “our country works well”?

Wasn’t the division more between the xenophobic, gungho nationalists who were afraid of immigrants and the rest? Perhaps that’s too sweeping but it’s more relevant that Theresa May’s divisions.

Yet hers speak to the Tory belief the everyone values what they value so divisions only arises when they don’t get it.

TORY VALUE 5: If you can easily afford to buy a house and send your kids to a private school you’re one of us. If you rent a house and send your kids to the local State School then your life isn’t working well.

The Prime Minister said:

This is the year we need to pull down these barriers that hold people back, securing a better deal at home for ordinary, working people. The result will be a truly united Britain, in which we are all united in our citizenship of this great nation; united in the opportunities that are open to all our people; and united by the principle that it is only your talent and hard work that should determine your future.

It would be nice to think that a “better deal at home for ordinary, working people” meant the abolition of Zero-Hour Contracts that have  900,000 working people getting paid £1,000 a year less than the people they work alongside; or a programme to reverse the 10.4% drop in real wages since 2007 (German wages grew by 14% over the same period)  but I doubt that that is what Theresa May means by “working well”.

This repeats TORY VALUE 3: We must be seen to be a meritocracy where failure is the fault of the person who failed.

It also distracts from a attention from one of our biggest division: wealth. In the UK, 44% of wealth is held by 10% of the people, with the richest 2.7% owning 26.4% of wealth. It’s hard to see how “only your talent and hard work that should determine your future” applies to the 90% of people who are not born into wealth.

TORY VALUE 6: Wealth has been ours for generations and we intend to keep it.

So far, everything that Theresa May said struck me a her just being a Tory, believing what Tories believe and trying to get the rest of us to believe it too. I don’t agree with her but I wouldn’t expect anything else from her.

The last part of her speech angered me. After another couple of paragraphs calling for unity, the  Prime Minister said:

As the fantastic MP Jo Cox, who was so tragically taken from us last year, put it: “We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.”

We have a golden opportunity to demonstrate that – to bring this country together as never before, so that whoever you are, wherever you live, our politics, economy and society work for you, not just a privileged few.

Jo Cox, a young Labour MP, elected to Parliament for the first time in 2015, was a strong campaigner to remain in the European Union. She was murdered during the referendum campaign six months ago by white supremicist Thomas Mair, who repeatedly shot and stabbed her while shouting: “This is for Britain”, “Keep Britain independent”, and “Britain first”.

I was shocked by Jo Cox’s death and heartened by the outpouring of sympathy the recognition of what we had been taken from us that followed her death.

I could not believe that Theresa May was using Jo Cox’s name and her words  and the sympathy the public have for her, to call on us to unite behind the Brexit agenda. So I looked up the quotation. It’s from Jo Cox’s maiden speech in Parliament.

Jo Cox said:

 Batley and Spen [her constituency] is a gathering of typically independent, no-nonsense and proud Yorkshire towns and villages. Our communities have been deeply enhanced by immigration, be it of Irish Catholics across the constituency or of Muslims from Gujarat in India or from Pakistan, principally from Kashmir. While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.

Jo Cox’s message of the strength that comes from diversity is a long way from Theresa May’s message of unite behind Brexit.

Jo Cox went on to say:

Many businesses in Yorkshire want the security and stability of Britain’s continued membership of the European Union, a cause I look forward to championing passionately in this place and elsewhere.

Jo Cox was murdered for passionately championing Britain’s continued membership of the European Union.

I think Theresa May should be ashamed of herself for wrapping her Tory message in Jo Cox’s words. It’s an insult to all the people who thought, and still think, the same way Jo Cox did.

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