An Irishism and a Terrible Sonnet

'May comes good at last' the newspapers proclaimed. This led to a rush to the life-support machine. Were the instruments suggesting that the brain was still alive? 'No' came the swift answer: 'wrong May'. Jonny May, the rugger player, had scored a brace of tries and helped England to victory. Theresa May, the politics player, still showed no signs of trying. The idea that she could help anyone to victory at anything is risible.

As one would expect, the Irish are good at pithy expressions of political wisdom in the form of Irishisms. 'This pig doesn't weigh as much as I thought it did - but then again, I never thought it would' is a demotic expression  of sound Tory scepticism. A few years ago, during a political scandal in Dublin, a delicious acronym was coined: Gubu. It stood for grotesque, unprecedented, bizarre and unbelievable. That was a one-off phrase for a one-off drama. When it comes to the May regime, there is nothing one-off. It stumbles deeper into the gubu with every passing day. Ubu Roi was a French avant-garde play which gave rise to shock and outrage. In Gubu Regina's case, it is tedium and despair.

In recent decades, as Britain gradually retreated from super-power status, we were able to mask relative decline by punching above our weight. Our diplomatic presence was still respected. Now: God help us - Theresa May and Boris Johnson do not live in the same universe as diplomatic respect. The world has rarely looked so beset with crises and and conflicts. So what has Her majesty's Government to say? Nothing. Brexit involves some of the most important decisions that any peacetime government has ever had to make. For the sake of future prosperity and social stability, we have got to get this right. Who trusts Theresa May to get anything right? Nor is she the only problem. It is increasingly clear that David Davis is incapable of running a serious negotiation. That those two should be in charge guarantees more Gubu. We are told that the PM will set out her vision for the post-Brexit future. To carry any conviction, she will have to give the speech of her life, and then some. How likely is that?

The government's weakness is causing mixed reactions on the continent. Michel Barnier seems to think that the UK can simply be brushed aside. A few threats, the odd whiff of grapeshot, and the Brits will crumble. There are even suggestions that we might back down. It may be that M Barnier has been too influenced by his dealings with Mr Davis and Mrs May, for it is impossible to base an accurate assessment of the British political character on their incompetence. A benign foreigner - George Soros is another example - might well conclude that the British would be happy to be rescued from patently inadequate leaders. But there is a problem. We do not like it when foreigners try to tell us what to do. Even if they were right, it would not work.

Other continentals understand this. They want a deal, not a hard Brexit. They fear that M Barnier is not going the right way about it. If only we had a British government to put things right.

'Put things right': that could involve a huge agenda. last November, Philip Hammond produced a cautious put hopeful Budget, There was no indulgence in fiscal fantasy. But there were important measures, especially on infrastructure and housing. This should have been enough to eliminate the impression that this government was lost in a gubu of badly-handled Brexit talks, and had nothing to say about anything else. So where is the follow-through? Nowhere. This is not Mr Hammond's fault. Any government's central strategic direction must come from the Prime Minister. Strategy? This Prime Minister?   That is a thought which lies too deep for laughter.

As well as Brexit, the Tory party has an urgent political task: to reconnect itself with aspiration - with the tens of millions of people in this country who have ambitions for themselves and their children. So what is Theresa May doing to encourage that vital project? Nothing. There is another important project which has been equally neglected: to reconnect the British government with common sense and with the tens of millions of people who expect their rulers to act according to it. Let us take one example. What do we know about children needing foster care? As their birth family is not functioning, we must be realistic. They are almost certainly feeling rejected and unloved. If this is not corrected, their chances of happiness will be greatly diminished. They need reasurance, cherishing, love. How do normal parents express all that, whether the problem is a bashed knee or a monster under the bed? Answer: by using a powerful familial antibiotic - hugs and cuddles. Yet we read that social work authorities are instructing foster parents not to hug their children.

What will be the consequence of this? A neglected and vulnerable child arrives to be fostered. It has an aching need for security and affection. If it is denied hugs and cuddles, it will only experience coldness, adding to existing feelings of rejection and worthlessness. The social workers who give this advice are acting as if they were being paid to inflict further pain on suffering children, and under a Tory government, no-one is stopping them. What is Theresa May doing to rebuild the government's links with common sense? Nothing. Gubu, gubu, as far as the eye can see.

The thought of damaged children reaching out for comfort and finding none reminds one of Hopkins's Terrible Sonnets, which include some of the most heart-rending lines in all literature. One begins 'No worst, there is none'. In poor Hopkins's case, alas, that was never true. There was always a new depth of worst-ness. That will be equally true of the Tory party, until it rids itself of this grotesque, unprecedented, bizarre and unbelievable figure who masquerades as Prime Minister.     

Back to Overview