She Who Must be Obeyed vs Citizen Smith…

WHO does Theresa May remind me of? It took a while but then the answer popped up. It’s Hilda, not that she was ever called that. Hilda was mostly known as She Who Must Be Obeyed.

Fans of John Mortimer’s novels, and the TV series they spawned, will recognise Rumpole’s fearsome wife.

For some reason, it is a comfort to find a fictional parallel for our party leaders, and I shall get around to Jeremy Corbyn in a moment. Partly this is because the game is mildly disrespectful. You see, at election times politicians tend to be more than mildly disrespectful of voters, treating us to cartoon versions of life.

May and Corbyn had their last pre-election clash at Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday, and the ding-dong lasted nearly an hour, twice the usually allotted time. Working out who ‘won’ any given session is a poor sort of sport, as the partial can usually find something that favours their man or woman. Yesterday May and Corbyn were more vigorous than usual in the exchange of insults, but other than that it ran as expected.

Corbyn delivered his usually gloomy prognosis of life under the dreaded Tories – the world’s about to end, basically – while May boringly repeated her “strong and stable” leadership slogan so many times the words appeared to have become lodged in her brain like a deadly virus.

I imagine that over breakfast May must turn to her husband and say: “Philip, would you like a strong and stable piece of toast?”

How patronising it is of Theresa May to believe that simply repeating that dull slogan will somehow win the country round. She has clearly been drilled to repeat “strong and stable” at every turn.

As for the She Who Must Be Obeyed label, she earns that for her clear disliking of opposition. Remember that her stated reason for calling a surprise snap election was basically that people would keep opposing her wish to get things done the way she wanted.

This dictatorial tendency she has seen John Crace, the Guardian’s political sketch writer, calling the prime minister Kim Jong-May. If she turns that sensible grey cut into an alarming black quiff, then we should start to worry.

The real She Who Must Be Obeyed rarely wobbled, but the May version gives the impression of panic, and at times you can almost see the nerves jangling beneath her skin. Just look out for her momentarily startled face. Maybe that’s why she won’t take part in a TV election debate. She is, to use a word Margaret Thatcher favoured, ‘frit’.

But whenever panic strikes May swallows those pills, the ones from the bottle marked ‘Strong and Stable’.

As for Jeremy Corbyn’s fictional parallel, perhaps it’s a bit obvious of me, but I still can’t resist Citizen Smith, the late-1970s sitcom character created by John Sullivan, who went on to write Only Fools And Horses.

Quite a lot of what Corbyn says makes sense to me on one level, but he does over-do the ‘dreaded Tories’ line – and take that from someone who has done the same for years. While his beliefs may be true, this approach risks reducing him to a caricature of the Tooting revolutionary. It also leaves his listeners thinking they’ve heard it all before.

Incidentally, David Cameron is apparently going around saying that his referendum ended the “poisoning” of British politics. And there was me thinking it was the burst appendix of British politics.

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