After Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s less than stellar appearance before the inquisition of the host on The Andy Marr Show (tm) last week, this morning the BBC was granted an audience with our increasingly reclusive and stage-managed Prime Minister. And it has to be concluded that this was one campaign which progressed not necessarily to her advantage, as soundbites were deployed and questions were avoided.
Worse - far worse - was the crashing lack of empathy for the plight in which many workers - note, workers, meaning people in full-time employment - found themselves. Mrs T could have got away with doing that, and indeed did on numerous occasions. Not Ms May.
Marr began on the question of soundbites and slogans. The answer contained all too many of them: “there’s a reason for talking about strong and stable leadership and having a strong and stable government. It’s precisely because this is the most important election the country’s faced in my lifetime. It’s about the future of the country. It’s about the national interest”. Strong and stable. Future of the country. National interest. Most important.
Was she a bit robotic? Er, “We are facing a moment of change in this country. We’re facing a moment when we have the opportunity to take this country forward, to make it an even better place to live for people, for their futures, a more secure future for people”. We’ll take that as a yes, then. And it was on to the empathy - or lack of it.
Marr moved on to food poverty: “according to the Royal College of Nursing [nurses have] had a 14 per cent pay cut since 2010. And we now get stories, again from the RCN, of lots of ordinary nurses by the end of the week having to use food banks because they can’t afford to pay for food. That is not the kind of country that you want to run, is it?”
And empathy for those nurses was there none: “I want a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few”. They’re not the privileged few, they’re the folks at the bottom of the pile. The robotics appeared to have been mis-programmed. Marr tried again: “I’m sorry, Prime Minister, we have nurses going to food banks at the moment, that must be wrong”.
Ms May saw Marr’s question, and raised him some more lack of empathy: “there are many complex reasons why people go to food banks”. No there sodding well aren’t: folks go to food banks because they’re both skint and hungry. This is not rocket science.
Marr maintained his line of questioning: “But the problem they have is that they haven’t got enough money to eat at the moment … under your government, the record number of food parcels last year has been handed out according to the Trussell Trust. 1.2 million food parcels in this country … if people vote Conservative again is that going to carry on? And the answer seems to be yes”. The standard of reply didn’t improve much.
Marr gives the PM some stick (ho ho ho)
“If I’m elected as Prime Minister, if a Conservative government is elected, what we will be doing is working to create a strong economy in this country, an economy which ensures that we’re creating secure and higher paid jobs for people. I want people to have security for their future. But to do that we need to get the Brexit negotiations right”.
What do the Brexit negotiations have to do with the immediate question of food poverty for those actually in work? Marr kept on about those Just About Managing voters.
“Let’s talk about the whole of the country, and again about working families. There are lots of benefit cuts in the pipeline. If they were introduced now, then three million households in this country would be on average £2,500 worse off. Again, if they vote Conservative that is what is going to happen”. Working people becoming worse off.
The lack of empathy, robotic answers, soundbites and slogans came together: “there’s a reason for doing that, which is we want to ensure that of course there is a welfare system that gives people support when they need that support. But I also want to see a welfare system that is helping to encourage and see people getting into the workplace. I think work is the best route out of poverty. And as we do that we need to ensure also that we are being fair to working families”. WE’RE TALKING ABOUT PEOPLE WHO ARE IN WORK.
Meanwhile, there were those Brexit negotiations to wheel out: “We need to get those Brexit negotiations right … It’s about those Brexit negotiations”. But what there was not was any acknowledgement that school funding faces a crisis, nor any guarantee that there would be no income tax or VAT rises in future, nor even maintenance of the pensions “triple lock”. But there was a new deflection tactic being deployed.
This was “look over there at the manifesto”, so we heard “if you want to know what’s in our Manifesto, Andrew, you’ll have to wait until the Manifesto is published … Exactly how we calculate that increase will be for the Manifesto, and as I’ll just said you’ll have to wait for the Manifesto to see what’s in it”. Which rather short-changes the viewers, but hey ho.
And on the question of Brexit, would she not just have to go in and sign the cheque for anything between €40 and €60 billion? As if she was going to tell BBC viewers that. But we did know that she believed more votes for Herself would strengthen her negotiating hand. Like it didn’t do with Alexis Tsipras - the claim is fallacious.
Although Marr concluded the interview by saying “We’ve covered a lot”, much of it was soundbites, slogans, and that total lack of feeling for the plight of the little people. It was not the performance of another Thatcher. It was, let us not drive this one round the houses for too long, a car crash of a performance: wooden, repetitive and unconvincing.
But there was one good thing about Theresa May’s interviews (she also gave one to Robert Peston over on ITV), and that was the five and a half weeks between now and polling day. That means - so the Tories will be hoping - that most of the electorate will have forgotten what a lousy performance this prospective Prime Minister gave.
Pity that the EU negotiators won’t have forgotten, though. Not a good performance.