The country goes a-Maying now, but is being led a merry dance

England has a long tradition of May Queens, but never before had a May who sometimes acts like a queen. ‘This is the most important election in my lifetime’ she insisted to Andrew Marr on one of his Sunday-morning BBC 1 shows.  ‘It’s about the future of the country and about the national interest’. She made plain her belief that to get the ‘tough’ Brexit negotiations right the country needs her in charge, which will also ensure a strong economy and ‘a country that works for everyone’.

She put over the same message even more explicitly on a visit to Scotland on April 30, stating that ‘every vote for me and my team will strengthen the Union, strengthen the economy, and the UK and Scotland together will flourish’.

Her messages are evidently working, as the local election results seem to show. The tide of approval and trust evidenced by comments of ordinary people who may never have voted Tory before almost suggests a developing cult status for her. When she held that queenly audience outside No.10 to announce that ‘some in Brussels’ want to sabotage Brexit, try to affect the election result and harm the UK, she was not noticeably received with incredulous laughter. Her words were not generally regarded either as paranoid or manipulative, but instead brought solemn head-shaking about our erstwhile friends apparently becoming enemies, in a newly Manichean view of Europe.

The queenly stance continued, when on Friday she is reported to have spoken of ‘the evident will of the British people’, and added, ‘Only a General Election vote for the Conservatives will strengthen my hand to get the best deal on Brexit.’ Note that use of ‘my’, more telling than ‘our’ would have been just then. It is she and not her party with its failed fallen heroes of yesteryear (actually only last summer) who can save us, and this self-belief that only she can make a success of Brexit is being widely accepted.

So we Liberal Democrats have just over four weeks now to try to convince the public that Britain’s future prosperity does not actually depend on giving Mrs May a huge majority on June 8, and on handing over the Brexit negotiations to her and her minions.

No matter how big her majority is in a month’s time, she is seeking the impossible. The EU position is clear: no free trade deal can be negotiated until the rights of EU citizens in Britain are established, until Britain has accepted its monetary obligations, and until the Irish border question is settled. As was made clear at the now infamous Downing Street dinner, reneging on the debt would make a free trade agreement unlikely.

In any case our Prime Minister intends to leave the EU’s internal market and the customs union. It will be impossible for us then to have the trade advantages that we have now with the EU, and it is unlikely that trading with the rest of the world will even in the long run compensate. Without us accepting some free movement of EU workers, it will be impossible to have the access to the internal market enjoyed by EFTA countries such as Norway. The whole scenario envisaged by the government, from maintaining our manufacturing base and financial services dominance to managing legal agreements without recourse to the European Court of Justice, appears illusory,

Our new Samson, noted like the Biblical hero for outstanding strength, could be destined like him to lose her strength abruptly. Samson’s strength vanished as soon as his hair was shorn. The Delilah in Mrs May’s case could be M. Michel Barnier, the EU’s quiet-spoken lead negotiator on Brexit. On behalf of the other 27 EU nations, he can wield the decisions that prove her demands cannot be fulfilled. The danger is that, like Samson in his final act of strength, Mrs May will then bring the temple crashing down on the country, reducing us to WTO rules after a hard Brexit, and ultimately to the right-wing dream of a low-tax low-services off-shore haven for the wealthy. Her premiership will be killed too, of course, as Samson was, but that will be no comfort for the rest of us.

We need to act now ourselves, to tell the country, that however strong May is in herself, or through the increased majority she expects on June 8, the odds are stacked against her in the Brexit game she is playing,

* Katharine Pindar is a long-standing member of the Lib Dems and an activist in the West Cumbrian constituency of Copeland and Workington.

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  • We need to act now ourselves, to tell the country, that however strong May is in herself, or through the increased majority she expects on June 8, the odds are stacked against her in the Brexit game she is playing,

    Thats true, but its just as true whoever wins the election. It is not as if the odds would favour us if Jeremy Corbyn got into Number 10. May will win because there is no opposition to compete with her. And she has to negotiate Brexit because of the referendum result.

  • “ICM’s weekly poll for the Guardian has topline figures of CON 49%, LAB 27%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 6%, GRN 3%. This is the first poll we’ve seen since the local government elections, and has the Tories back up to a lead of 22 points”

    There’s no getting away from it, as politicians go this “May Queen” is very popular.

  • Paul Murray 9th May '17 - 8:35am

    The BritainElects polling average has now got LD at 10.0% – a continuing decline – and the last two polls (ICM and Opinium) have both had the party at sub-10%. There is nothing to be gained from articles that preach to the choir and ooze groupthink. I want to see a strong LD group in parliament to speak for progressive politics. But the LD campaign to date has been a series of missteps, retrenchments and retreats to the party’s comfort zone. Where is the radical “big idea”?

  • Roger Billins 9th May '17 - 9:28am

    The opinion polls are depressing and without something big happening will not change. The problem with target seats, is that if millions of people are not hearing from us locally they think we cannot bother and will not tell opinion pollsters they support us, keeping our percentage support down, effecting party morale and depressing our target seat support. Every household should hear from us once. I came a distant second in the county council elections but with a respectable 21%. in a non target seat. Our constituency of Stratford is a safe Tory seat but we have agreed in my ward to put out a thank you Focus also promoting our excellent PPC so that everybody will at least have two bits of paper from us. We will then encourage our activists to dedicate any more time to target seats

  • I do not know quite who reads LibDemVoice and Liberal Tweets and at what audience our comments should be directed. I suspect in this context that even Vince Cable may not read the latter, for if he had done so he would be aware that Jon Ball in Ealing Central and Acton is one of our hardest working and most effective LD campaigners and well deserving of Vince’s support at the coming election.

    Leaving that aside, I do hope that some at least of the prominent business people who came out in support of the Remain campaign do read what we have to say on these sites and are motivated by it to come out once more in support either of Remain or of a softer Brexit than our government currently contemplates, and to do so in the most effective way by calling on voters generally to vote for us as the only pro-Remain/pro-Single Market party. Is this too much to expect ?

  • Peter Watson 9th May '17 - 10:57am

    Theresa May’s position is bolstered by the way she rose to power.
    The Tory leadership contest was comparatively civil despite what must have been some very deep and bitter grudges between the candidates. Andrea Leadsom’s slip at the end meant that Theresa assumed control without a potentially damaging final round, and now leads what looks like a relatively united party. By contrast, Labour look like they are in constant turbulent rebellion underneath Jeremy Corbyn, and Tim Farron’s general election campaign was derailed at the start because of ammunition provided by Norman Lamb in the party’s own leadership contest.
    Similarly, the Tories present themselves as a “grown up” party that has “moved on”, with David Cameron as (amazingly) almost a forgotten figure, while Tony Blair and Nick Clegg still keep popping up to take the focus away from their parties’ current leaders, both of which seem to be re-fighting the battles of last year and before.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 9th May '17 - 11:15am

    Katharine, you say “reneging on the debt would make a free trade agreement unlikely”, as if Theresa May is unreasonably refusing to repay a debt that Britain owes. But do you really believe that an “exit bill” of a hundred billion pounds is fair? Do you believe Theresa May should just give in and pay it?

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 9th May '17 - 11:22am

    I do rather wonder if there is a sort of unconscious sexism in accusing Theresa May of “acting like a queen”. When did you last hear a male political leader accused of “acting like a king”?

  • Katharine Pindar 9th May '17 - 11:28am

    What is needed in this election campaign, I believe, is to make a determined effort to weaken May’s Tory dominance by showing how hopeless her proposed negotiating posture for Brexit is, both in its belligerence and in its content. Today’s renewed insistence on keeping the impossible target for reduced immigration is another aspect of Tory fantasy thinking. We should explain the realities of the country’s perilous position under this Government, both now and as the harm of Brexit develops, and the alleviation which our policies can bring, for instance by remaining in the internal market.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 9th May '17 - 11:36am

    Katharine, but would you agree that Juncker and other leading representatives of the EU are behaving unreasonably? There is “belligerence” on the EU side too.

  • Katharine Pindar 9th May '17 - 12:28pm

    ‘Putting the bill for Britain’s departure at 100 billion euros … is helpfully ridiculous. When we pay much less than that, we win. When we pay a bit more than the amount Mr Juncker is privately telling his people he will settle for, he wins. We all get prizes.’ I am indebted to Phillip Collins of The Times for this insight, Catherine. At the same time, now having caught up with the thread on commentators criticising Theresa May, I have read the article from a German newspaper helpfully brought to us there by Arnold Kiel, which shows that the British Government is being obstructive about the EU’s mid-term budget review, which is naturally annoying to Mr Juncker and difficult for the leaders there.
    I am glad to read about the commentators who have criticised Theresa May’s approach, and they include Phillip Collins, But what concerns me is that while the intelligentsia may indeed be aware of the deficiencies of her approach (as also of the game-playing by both sides), ordinary people are not. That was rather summed up for me by one housewife I was delivering a letter to in the local election campaign last week, who remarked casually, ‘They are giving her a hard time.’ She was conveying sympathy for our Prime Minister under attack by nasty Brussels leaders. I believe we have to explain the facts to people, quietly and reasonably, the facts about the difficult situation our country is in, facing Brexit, and the reasons why Theresa May’s intolerant hardline approach to the negotiations will fail.

  • Arnold Kiel 9th May '17 - 12:36pm

    Juncker stands behind the 60 billion, which is reasonable, not the 100, imposed by some members (and provoked by the UK). If May expresses the belief that the sum should be 0, free trade without free movement is on offer, Brexit can be a success, and that it is proper to disrupt current EU business in order to get there, it is not belligerent, but fair and necessary to correct that misperception. He now regrets that this has become public, but I understand his desperation about a negotiation partner who understands nothing and races full speed towards a wall. In doing so, he shows more concern for the UK’s economic wellbeing than this country’s PM.

    In practice, the EU will not continue free trade without precisely understanding and agreeing to the specific immigration-limitation measures May proposes, both conceptually and practically (like on all other fronts, no visible progress in thinking so far). And she will fail miserably. This public exercise (inseparable from the question of guarantees for existing residents) will so fundamentally expose the absurdity, superficiality and impracticability of all immigration targets and -measures, that the combination of national and international outrage will bring this discussion to an impasse and in effect perpetuate free movement. Expect another change in PM at that stage.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 9th May '17 - 12:45pm

    Arnold Kiel, Can you explain why you think a sixty billion pounds “exit bill” is “reasonable”?

  • Arnold Kiel 9th May '17 - 12:57pm

    from what I know, it is the sum of the UK’s net contributions agreed for the current EU-budget-term and the UK-share of the EU’s pension obligations before rebate (which intended to keep the UK on board, but should not be applied when it leaves).

    Article 50 does not say that its invocation voids all prior committments; it provides for a 2-year negotiation-period, instead. This time would not be needed, if there were no surviving obligations to be agreed-upon.

  • Arnold, I fear that we are (and will continue) seeing a barrage of manufactured arguments with the EU and it’s leaders. Every leak, every “I’m a bloody difficult woman” quote, every suggestion of unreasonable demands for a “divorce bill” just strengthen her hand.

    When eventually there is no “good deal” on the table, and we are in “no deal is better than a bad deal” territory, she will not take an ounce of responsibility. She will be sitting pretty between the British public who voted to leave, and an EU that refuses to give her what she wants. She will never accept that any of it is her fault, and the more arguments she has with the EU along the way, the less likely British voters are to blame her too.

    Politically, she is better off with no deal, since a good deal would require compromises that the Leave faction within her own party would never accept with good grace.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 9th May '17 - 1:01pm

    This subject drives me potty !

    Two people, Katharine and Catherine , amongst the most intelligent and compassionate people I have come across in politics, who, should both be engaged with our party in government or leading position in opposition, on matters we all need to be concerned about , the issues that are really at the , pun intended, centre of things, instead , like many of us , dealing with the fall out of this Brexit nonsense !

    I agree with both of them, There’s a surprise ?! As usual the only reason I am in this party really is my Liberalism , my sense of democracy, is about balance and flexibility.

    I have been on threads relating to this subject, and , I say it not lightly and with appreciation, it is the comments of our two , Katharines, Catherines, spur me on often.

    I never get why from older male left wing poster on here, the slightest criticism of Tim Farron on this is vilified , or I am for it, but they can describe Nick Clegg in ways I wouldn’t my own worst enemy !

    May is good and bad on Brexit. Juncker too.

    Thats the news.

    And , to conclude.. a cat was stuck up a tree in …

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 9th May '17 - 1:12pm

    Lorenzo, 🙂

  • Arnold Kiel 9th May '17 - 1:33pm

    @ Nick,
    you may be right. But when at that time the people, in the face of the immediate consequences of economic collapse, still stand by the Brexiteers, I shall calm down and say: ok, I get it now: you really wanted this; good luck, Britain.

    And maybe ask Lorenzo,
    which were again those “matters we all need to be concerned about”, instead of “this Brexit nonsense”?

  • Catherine wrote “I do rather wonder if there is a sort of unconscious sexism in accusing Theresa May of “acting like a queen”. When did you last hear a male political leader accused of “acting like a king”?”

    I one of those males who often roll eyes at constant accusations of sexism in modern society, but I do believe Catherine has hit the mark here. It’s a clear case of a woman being seen/treated differently to how a man would be.

  • Malcolm Todd 9th May '17 - 2:10pm

    I can’t see what’s remotely “queen-like” in any of the things cited here. When did a queen last have to worry about getting votes or implementing “the will of the people”? (Historically, they’ve been more concerned with the “will of God” and not letting nasty common people thwart it.)
    It hadn’t struck me as sexist per se, but perhaps Catherine and Richard have a point: a woman acting like an egocentric leader is derided and criticised for ideas above her station, whereas a man would be a strong leader? (And perhaps Corbyn suffers for a style that is not thought “manly” enough?)

    None of which should be construed as anything like support for the PM, who, starting from a fairly low base, impresses me less every time I see or hear her…

  • nvelope2003 9th May '17 - 3:15pm

    People like her because she seems much like themselves. Is that what we need ?

  • Andrew Tampion 9th May '17 - 4:19pm

    Arnold “Juncker stands behind the 60 billion, which is reasonable,” I’ll run through the figures as I see them then you can tell me where I’ve gone wrong.,
    The EU budget is fixed for the years 2015 – 2020. The UK pays (gross) £13 billion per annum so that’s £65 billion over 5 years but it’s 2017 now and we don’t leave until 2019 so we will have paid £52 billion and have £13 billion to pay. However we receive about £4.5 billion back so the nett figure is £8.5 billion. At current exchange rates 60 billion euros equals £50.5 billion pounds. So based on your argument that makes the Uk’s share of the pension liabilities £42 billion?

  • Katharine Pindar 9th May '17 - 7:07pm

    No, people, I don’t think it is at all sexist to think that Mrs May is acting like a queen. I think she is channelling Mrs Thatcher, whose ‘We are a grandmother’ you may recall. I think she is deliberately setting herself above her trio of Brexiter ministers, pretending to be (if you like) a ‘clean skin’ where they, especially Johnson, can be easily criticised, and, of course, marking out that whereas the leader of the Conservatives is outstanding and can be admired and trusted, the leader of the Labour Party is viewed rather differently.
    Malcolm, I view Mrs May’s posturing as that of a self-deceiving supreme leader, and I would make the same criticisms of any Tory leader who posed and preened and deceived like this one, male or female. Actually, do you recall seeing herself and Osborne pictured at the last Tory conference, both adopting a legs wide-apart stance which I personally thought looked completely ridiculous but which was apparently supposed to denote their power and authority? Osborne is now seemingly enjoying his revenge, futile as it is. What an unprincipled shower they are!
    Lorenzo, thank you for your kind words, as ever. I thought you with your cultural background would enjoy the Robert Herrick reference of the title, and the Samson idea.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 9th May '17 - 10:47pm


    I shall deal with you despite your sarcasm, it is Brexit I think is nonsense !


    Thanks and yes , and good for you with your light , sharp and positive way of being scathing !

  • @Andrew Tampion – My understanding is like yours and Arnold’s!
    Namely, there is a 60B component which is composed of long-term commitments the UK has made and there is a further 40B which is more questionable.

    However, exactly how these two numbers have been arrived at, seems not to have been disclosed – I expect because officially Brexit negotiations have yet to commence.

    Thus given, as you indicate, the size of the UK’s gross and net contributions and the remaining years in the current budget cycle, there does seem to be some discrepancy, which will need to be accounted for and explained.

    Hence I don’t see the need to get hot under the collar about these figures at the present time – just accept that there will be a bill to be paid.

  • Katharine Pindar 10th May '17 - 6:48pm

    Shiny four-colour A4 leaflet delivered to my door this afternoon, as I suppose to all of us, about that Strong and Stable LEADERSHIP. Am reminded of yesterday’s very funny Times satirical piece about herself as Queen Bee, surrounded of course only by numerous drones. The leaflet itself is laughable enough: this election is needed for instance because ‘One-off chance now while EU leaders agree stance’ (hello, Theresa, they’d agreed it even before the leaflet went to press) and ‘To lock in our economic progress’ (you mean keep inflation rising and businesses fleeing?) – but you can supply your own ripostes easily enough. I particularly like being told that Vince has said we would be happy to prop up Jeremy Corbyn on a vote-by-vote basis in Parliament, when everyone knows the impossibility and therefore unpropability of JC’s premiership. I just want to get out on the doorsteps now!

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