The Scrooges in Charge

From refugees to healthcare, Theresa May’s policies are paranoid and mean-spirited.

Jane Miller April 25, 2017

Theresa May is Great Britain's prime minister and leader of "the nasty party." (Carl Court / Getty Images)

It isn’t all bad. Moon­light won the Best Pic­ture Oscar, after all, and Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, a won­der­ful film about the effects of aus­ter­i­ty on poor peo­ple, won the Palme d’Or in Cannes last year. When the sun deigns in its win­tery way to pen­e­trate London’s pol­lut­ed sky and alight on the stretch of the riv­er Thames near my home, I remem­ber that this is still where I want to live. How­ev­er, we’re treat­ed dai­ly to pol­i­cy announce­ments so para­noid and mean-spir­it­ed, you’d think we inhab­it­ed some hell­hole. Your coun­try and mine are poten­tial­ly (were we to dis­trib­ute our wealth more wise­ly) rich and for­tu­nate beyond imag­in­ing, and we’re told by the UN that famine and star­va­tion and home­less­ness are on a scale unknown since the end of the Sec­ond World War. 

We have had destructive rightwing regimes before, but I can’t remember a time when there was so little resistance or criticism coming from the Left.

Our cur­rent prime min­is­ter, There­sa May, remind­ed her own Tory par­ty in 2002 that they should endeav­our to lose their rep­u­ta­tion for being the nasty par­ty.” Yet here she is, glo­ry­ing in our divorce from Europe, sack­ing her party’s vet­er­an big beast,” Michael Hes­el­tine, for back­ing a move to allow Par­lia­ment a mean­ing­ful” vote on the out­come of nego­ti­a­tions to leave Europe. (Every one of the remain­ing coun­tries in the Euro­pean Union will have such a vote.) Worse is her government’s deter­mi­na­tion to per­sist with her predecessor’s aus­ter­i­ty pro­gramme, with its sav­age fund­ing cuts to Local Author­i­ties, the providers of most social ser­vices across the coun­try. Schools are shed­ding cours­es and teach­ers, and class sizes are grow­ing. The Nation­al Health Ser­vice is regard­ed as dan­ger­ous­ly unable to cope even by those who work in it. There is a fright­en­ing growth of vio­lence and chaos in pris­ons. All due to a lack of resources. May has bought a lot of new clothes, but she refus­es to engage with any­thing but Brexit. 

Mean­while, George Osborne, the archi­tect of the aus­ter­i­ty pro­gramme when he was David Cameron’s Chan­cel­lor of the Exche­quer, is now a back­bench MP, for which he is paid £75,000 a year. Not a huge salary, though it’s more than dou­ble that of the aver­age U.K. work­er. He tops it up with £650,000 for a four­day-a-month job in an invest­ment insti­tu­tion and has just been made edi­tor of the Lon­don Evening Stan­dard. We’re all in this togeth­er,” he was giv­en to telling us as he slashed the rem­nants of the wel­fare state. 

More win­some­ly, May express­es her con­cern for those who are just about man­ag­ing,” known as JAMs, for short, though she has done noth­ing to ease their lot. Well, you Amer­i­cans have a bil­lion­aire to sort out your inequal­i­ty dif­fi­cul­ties, so per­haps you don’t need me to tell you about ours. 

Our most dis­heart­en­ing moment, in fact, has been the government’s recent back­track­ing on a pro­pos­al to accept a few thou­sand unac­com­pa­nied child refugees. The pro­pos­al was the work of Lord Dubs, a Labour peer, who came here at the age of 6 in 1938 as one of the Jew­ish chil­dren res­cued from the Nazis in what was known as the Kinder­trans­port. The Dubs pro­pos­al was a mod­est one, giv­en that there are at least 90,000 refugee chil­dren still strand­ed in camps in Europe and the Mid­dle East. Yet now the gov­ern­ment has announced that it will accept no more than the 350 who are already here. Accept­ing more might encour­age the oth­ers, and we can’t have that. What’s hap­pened to those British val­ues” we insist that for­eign vis­i­tors learn by heart if they hope to live among us? 

We have had destruc­tive rightwing regimes before, but I can’t remem­ber a time when there was so lit­tle resis­tance or crit­i­cism com­ing from the Left. I’ve sup­port­ed Jere­my Cor­byn until now, though he’s been luke­warm about oppos­ing Brex­it, and he put his foot in it by insist­ing that Labour MPs vote with the gov­ern­ment to trig­ger the exit. If Labour’s lethar­gy, con­fu­sion and sulk­ing pre­date his lead­er­ship, it is his unwill­ing­ness to col­lab­o­rate with the rem­nants of the Lib­er­al Democ­rats, or the Scot­tish Nation­al­ists or the one (excel­lent) Green MP, that seem symp­to­matic of the times. Not only greed and cal­lous­ness, but a new chau­vin­ism, an autho­rized sus­pi­cion of the rest of the world, even just of oth­er peo­ple, rules the waves. And the fact that some­thing sim­i­lar has hap­pened in Amer­i­ca and in India and in many parts of Europe is any­thing but a consolation. 

Jane Miller lives in Lon­don, and is the author, most recent­ly, of In My Own Time: Thoughts and After­thoughts (2016), a col­lec­tion of her In These Times columns and interviews.
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