What is ‘Mayism’? The PM must move fast to explain her vision
(AFROASIA NEWS / ONLINE DESK) Anne McElvoy , The Guardian – The May supremacy has been in place for a month and the Cameron era already feels well and truly buried, with few graveside speeches of appreciation on his own side.
Long live Queen May – such is the fervent Tory hope after a bruising and divisive transition of power.
The prime minister also presents a conundrum, for what is Mayism, beyond a vehicle for delivering a demi-Brexit while calling it a full one?
The jigsaw is emerging rather faster than many Conservatives expected.
“Theresa has been so very boring for so long,” says a former minister at the Home Office.
“She’s clearly decided to unleash all the pent-up, interesting stuff by September.
Thus her inaugural speech outside Number 10 was aimed squarely at the heart of Cameron’s Camelot, a Tory Gettysburg moment, based in great part on highlighting the central flaw of the old order it replaces.
In this case, it dismissed Cameronism as too narrow and metropolitan a clique to unite the party or the country.
Imagine the sort of policies that a moderate, small-c conservative in middle England would deem a good or bad idea and you have a pretty fair compass of May’s beliefs.
Brexit? Yes, but let’s handle it carefully and be nice to the powerful Germans.
Grammar schools? Should never have been abolished.
Lofty concepts called things such as northern powerhouse with ex-banker friends of George Osborne involved? Not so much.
Bill of rights minutiae only a few Conservative lawyers understand? Best left for another day.
Feminism? Not much talked about.
Even the summer Swiss holiday is thrillingly middle Tory: Cameronians went there on posh skiing holidays; she goes out of season, with rucksack and walking boots.
But Mayism has historical roots to an age long before the kitten heels clacked into Downing Street.
Her leadership bid was launched symbolically in Birmingham, where she cited the legacy of the radical civic leader Joe Chamberlain, who crossed the floor from the Liberals to the Tory party in the 19th century; “the man who made the weather”, as Churchill would later fete him, brandishing city autonomy, pushing progressive politics on sanitation, slum clearance and education, widening the franchise for poor urban workers and armed with an irreverence about the establishment that would see him split the Liberals over Irish home rule and the Tories over free trade in 1906.
A man who has split two parties looks spookily in tune with the era in which the main parties are defined by their schisms – the Tories over Europe, Labour over just about everything else.
But what May hopes to hoover up from an unfairly peripheral historical figure is a distrust of established elites, which she feels will give her room to overturn parts of the Cameron-Osborne doctrine she dislikes.
It was, she said, “apparent to anybody who is in touch with the real world” that the government was not delivering enough opportunity or reward to many parts of Britain outside the south-east.
Note the jibe that the previous managements in Number 10 and 11 inhabited a well-spun fantasy.
In truth, I doubt that May spent much of her spare time reading up on Joe’s municipalisation of mid-19th-century public services until she was pointed there by her cerebral main policy guru, Nick Timothy, who has a long-standing interest in Chamberlain.
But the fact that May absorbed the idea shows her faith in Timothy, now without doubt purveyor of useful ideas to the May machine.
Now she needs to choose which of her instincts she intends to turn into hard policy, which is where the trouble starts.
Besides the overriding task of delivering Brexit, May is selecting causes she believes will consolidate her position at the Tory helm and balance out grievances stirred up by the EU referendum between the various wings and factions of her party.
So new appointments such as Liz Truss, replacing Michael Gove at Justice, have been asked to look again (not in a nice way) at a detailed bill of rights proposal that the ex-PM had intended to champion this autumn.
May is a long-standing critic of the European convention on human rights and its incorporation into the UK’s Human Rights Act.
But to the surprise of many in her circle, her position on this has changed since April, when she was in favour of leaving the convention.
One close ally says: “She has accepted that there is no majority for leaving the European court of human rights, so alternatives to it become a bit theoretical.
” Some fudge will be presented, but the notion of a wide-ranging British bill now looks to be in the long grass.
Here is a useful insight into May’s habit of balancing pros and cons.
Quizzed privately on how she had made her decision on the EU referendum as a naturally small-s sceptical MP to (just about) back Remain, she explained that she had written down a ledger of pros and cons and worked through a weighting for each argument by the importance she attached to it, until the tally became clear and she opted for Remain.
To the annoyance of Osborne in particular, she did little to help that cause in the campaign.
Recalling John Major’s convenient dental emergency during the terminal crisis of the Thatcher leadership, one MP jokes that May had “a three-month toothache” during the referendum wars.
Now, she seeks new post-vote balancing acts, forging a cordial relationship with Nicola Sturgeon, who would strongly oppose a bill of rights.
In other terrains, she will be less emollient.
The speed with which May has unpicked the previous chancellor’s spending targets and raised doubts over the scale of reliance on quantitative easing to offset the Brexit shock is telling.
The result may be a tax-heavy autumn budget to shore up the public finances, the first big test of her ability to oversee unpopular news.
Team May has also stored up trouble by defining itself overwhelmingly against its predecessors.
Take grammar schools.
Blitzing the Blair-Cameron omerta on selection, as the PM is expected to announce at the party conference, will thrill the many in her ranks who benefited from grammars or uphold the idea without too close a look at the impact on other schools’ outcomes or the difficulties of securing social mobility via academic selection.
Getting rid of a ban on something is easy, defining how it should work in practice devilishly hard.
Many modernising Tories won’t back the change; it muddies the status of city academies and their place in her philosophy of greater inclusion.
Many Conservative councils will first look interested and then back away.
As a long-serving councillor herself, I’m pretty sure she knows this.
So the great grammar school embrace starts to look more like virtue-signalling of the Conservative variety than a widely deliverable objective.
Too much of this and Mayism will start to look threadbare.
Other quick-fire instincts have not been crowned with glory.
In an attempt to soften a reputation as hatchet-faced home secretary, May was urged to take a more personal interest in the investigations into historical child sex abuse.
It would be a stretch to say that saga has ended well, in the wake of two failed appointments and the farcical stay of an ill-chosen New Zealand judge, Dame Lowell Goddard, who has now quit the job.
The limitations of the May agenda remain what they always have been, namely that she operates diligently in chosen niches and has a well-honed ability to survive in tough jobs.
Six years as home secretary, without succumbing to one disaster or another is, as a former incumbent Jack Straw told me recently, “impressive by any measure”.
The leap to Number 10, and the range of talents and resilience demanded, is one often underestimated by ambitious ministers.
So is the necessity to gain the best out of competing teams of policymakers and strategists.
The accompanying flaw of Mayism is its tendency to cliquishness of staff and ideas, even narrower than the crowd it replaces.
If big city autonomy for Birmingham is such a good idea, why was the northern powerhouse centred on Manchester/Leeds being sidelined? And if greater social mobility is the aim, where do existing school reforms fit in and how many risks to settled interests will Joe Chamberlain’s declared heir be prepared to take to pursue the lofty goal of a stroppy old Liberal?
To grip her party’s imagination and entice others towards her prospectus, May will need to appeal beyond the common sense of the shires and a dusting down of pre-Cameron ideas.
Not an easy task, as she sets out to deliver the most significant change in Britain’s international standing since 1945.
In such circumstances, a short period of sweet revenge is acceptable.
A longer one would look small minded for someone with a big job ahead.
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