Much to Theresa May’s benefit, her approval ratings in comparison to Corbyn’s are on the up. According to the latest Opinium poll for the Observer, both parties are on 40%, with Corbyn’s net approval dropping to -19 points. This is exactly what Mrs May needs to hear. With local elections around the corner, the Skripal case, as well as intervention in Syria, could scarily be allowed to become her ‘Falklands moment’.
Cast your eyes back to Thatcher’s day; the 1983 election decisively pushed Thatcher’s premiership into a second term. Arguably the Falklands helped to construct an image of Thatcher as some gutsy, pragmatic world leader, despite the fact that the Conservative’s approval ratings dropped as low as 23% between 1979 and 1983. Furthermore, Thatcher’s relationship with Reagan only helped to appropriate her newly deified image on an international stage. Sure, this image didn’t last long, but events like the Falklands helped to create a narrative that Thatcher could latch herself onto, which granted her another election win. May and Thatcher are different, however May’s ability to spin stories and narratives surrounding her stance on terror makes her remarkably similar to Thatcher.
May’s ability to sustain and manipulate narratives like this — the same way Thatcher did — is her biggest strength. It allows her to uphold one image to the electorate, and another in private. Her ‘tough on terror’ bravado shockingly allows her, time and again, to evade serious questions around her suggestions of putting a check on human rights law for the sake of terror policy, whilst simultaneously arming Saudis and condoning Israeli force against peace-protesting Palestinians. May talks about accountability, but her facade allows her to seem unaccountable. Simply put: as long as the narrative May spins can be appropriated by the mainstream press, opposition to her narrative will only look weak.
As long as the narrative May spins can be appropriated by the mainstream press, opposition to her narrative will only look weak.
Bypassing Parliament over Syrian strikes will anger MPs, but tactically speaking, having no working majority means it is the smartest thing for her to do. It periodically stops her looking inept, now appearing somewhat decisive and pragmatic in the face of adversity. But let us not ignore the fact that she’s consistently weak at anything else — like handling the Foreign Secretary, for example. Her actions are effective at publically alienating and shaming the likes of Corbyn, whose measured talk and resolve ideas are now seen to be completely heretical. Corbyn will continue, therefore, to look like some ‘foreign regime supporting Commie’.
Thatcher was equally as effective at destroying Michael Foot in 1983 — funnily enough the same year Corbyn became an MP — by spinning a narrative that the press could latch onto. Some are uneasy about comparing May to Thatcher, but the issue is that these people ignore the fact that May is absolutely a student of Thatcher. Things haven’t changed. Providing May is allowed to make terror and foreign intervention her ‘Falklands moment’, this is little more than history repeating.
With the May elections right around the corner, it is now a question of whether these elections will be May’s elections. Without proper accountability, and without recognising the convenient timing of recent events, facades could allow these council elections to go her way. If the power of spin allows the Tories to win council elections, then unfortunately May is here to stay.