I was surely not the only staunch left-winger in the UK who breathed a secret sigh of relief when Theresa May emerged as Prime Minister last summer. As the raw reality of Brexit sunk in, and the Tory party crumbled apart, May’s lack of devious back-stabbing, and understated demeanour seemed even to Labour’s weary supporters, to be a hopeful shift in power away from the Etonian crowd. ‘A safe pair of hands’ is a phrase often used to describe her – which seems almost reasonable in comparison to the Shakespearean plotting and downfalls of Cameron, Osbourne, Johnson and Gove. (I say downfalls, they are, of course, still fully employed with enormous pay packages).
And then she built the Calais Wall, constructed to keep out the legions of refugees desperate for access to Britain, and in the process gave President Trump a run for his money. That was the first blow. However, she appeared to show a small amount of mercy to children, with the introduction of the Dubs Scheme, which would allow 3000 Syrian children into the UK, bearing in mind that according to UNICEF Lebanon currently hosts 1.1 million refugees, and Turkey 2.5 million. Last February the child refugee intake was capped to 350 individuals. Our stable, sensible Prime Minister quietly allowed the Dubs Scheme, designed to grant safe passage to thousands of displaced children, to be revoked.
There has been understandable outrage since, headed by Arch-Bishop Justin Welby, and solidified in a petition that reached 50,000 signatures. The low point of the Dubs Scheme episode of May’s history, was the largely ill-publicized decision to refuse entry to disabled refugee children, the claim being that we do not have the resources to cope with them. This is pitiful, and deeply shameful leadership. Despite George Osbourne’s insistence upon the UK’s cash squeezed status, we are indisputably still a globally prominent economy. As the Guardian’s Hugh Muir said so well recently, we are not too poor to be decent.
In reality, it should not be a surprising decision, given the previous conduct of the Conservative administration. The infamous Ian Duncan-Smith cut disability benefits by £1.2 billion, whilst also making them extremely difficult to obtain, a move approved of by the majority of leading figures within the party, including May. When he resigned in March 2016 in disgust at the continuation of welfare cuts under the new government, Cameron described his own reaction as ‘puzzled and disappointed’. Ken Loach’s 2016 film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ has drawn a large amount of attention to the atrocities of current welfare policy, which makes May’s decision look even more audacious in retrospect.
More recently, May’s government has made the decision to force asylum seekers to undergo a ‘safe return review’ five years after being granted refugee status. This attempt to remove as many refugees as possible elongates the uncertainty for all asylum seekers searching for stability, and has been widely condemned by charities.
The message that May presents us with through such conduct is this: that she is uninterested in the weak members of society, that somebody else can deal with them (preferably a long way away) whilst she deals with the really important people, the business owners and the CEOs, who are truly deserving of her attention and support, because they make money. The safe pair of hands has also proved to be cold and palpably cruel. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you, but what if it chooses to withhold the food for the sake of ideology? It has been observed many times that the Conservative manifesto is primarily ideological, inflicting savage cuts upon the least fortunate for political, not as they claim, economic reasons. The ‘sensible’ party of money management is just as ideologically driven as Corbin and Caroline Lucas. The myth that the Conservatives are less ideological must be debunked. There has been a tidal wave of media discussion regarding May’s u-turn in calling a snap general election this June, and what this says about her leadership. Do not be fooled. As many have noticed before, you must judge a person by how they treat the lowest in society. May’s attitude to disabled refugees surely says something far more important about her leadership, and her priorities.