Politics

The Utter Pointlessness of Theresa May

Understanding the absurd position of the hapless UK Prime Minister.
November 20, 2017, 12:38pm
(Clickpics/Alamy Live News)

What must it be like to be Theresa May? Every day you wake up in Downing Street, from a dream in which you were Prime Minister. In the dream, which haunts you the same every night, you are universally beloved – a great statesperson. Your every triumphant display in Parliament sees MPs, government and opposition alike, joyously opt to pass new laws in your name. Your every footstep on the ground outside attracts an adoring crowd, cheering every graceful wave as they fight each other just to get the slightest touch of your clothes – an act the little people consider a great blessing. Your nation is a land transformed. Over your 20-year reign of essentially unchallenged executive superiority, the UK has pulled itself up by its bootstraps and become, once again, a nation of hard-working patriots, freed from the cosmopolitan stain of unchecked immigration and ungrateful leftie intellectualism. Your portrait proudly hangs in every workplace; your face flies on the Union Theresa flag every schoolchild is now obliged, first and last thing every day, to salute.

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Why do you have to wake up? Sometimes you think: maybe it's the dream that is real, since the world you emerge into from it is nothing if not a constant nightmare. Did the dream not, after all, have the quality of reality before? When the Mail were calling you the "new iron lady"; when even the Guardian was lauding you as a safe pair of hands; when you were 30 points ahead of Corbyn in the polls? Did you not sometimes visit this dark, parallel world when you closed your eyes at night? At what point did you slip into it wholesale?

Each day, the chaos only seems to mount. Your cabinet of sex pests and snakes is engulfed by multiple scandals of its own creation, the whole operation seemingly only held in place by the centrifugal forces of corruption acting on it from every angle. Your government has forced itself, through a series of almost unthinkable blunders, to pursue an impossibly complex act of national self-harm for blinkered ideological and short-sighted electoral-pragmatic reasons – and let's face it: you're on board with this project too, but still no one seems able to agree about the extent to which the nation ought to harm itself, and how. It might help if you had a parliamentary majority, but you threw that away over the summer, back when you still assumed the dream-world was the real one and the nightmare would never encroach. You're still in power, but whenever you try to act to clear the mess up, more chaos seems to ensue. Increasingly, you're just letting it fester – if only that alleviated any of it. Active or passive, all you can preside over is disaster.

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You are the Prime Minister, but you're so bad at being the Prime Minister that sometimes it feels like the office itself may never recover from your holding it. In truth, all your power amounts to is the power to resign. It’s absurd. Surely it would be better for everyone, yourself included, if you chose to exercise this power. So why don't you?


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For Camus, the absurd results from the confrontation between "the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world", between our attempts at action, our struggles for meaning and a cold world which constantly transcends our understanding of it. Under such conditions, life might seem essentially pointless – we’re like Sisyphus, condemned by the gods to spend eternity rolling a rock up a mountain. If life has no essential meaning, then there is no essentially right or wrong way to live. We do not have to be beholden to any pre-given values, moral or religious or otherwise: if we embrace the absurd then we can choose to live, to confront the struggles of existence, by whatever standards we might please. By embracing his struggle, Camus tells us, Sisyphus is able to give his world meaning. For this reason, Camus concludes, "one must imagine Sisyphus happy".

We should also imagine Theresa May as a Camus-style absurd hero. Our Prime Minister's existence is certainly pointless. By staying in office, she can achieve nothing; she can only make things worse, for herself as much as the rest of the country. She ought to just quit right now. But perhaps she understands that her existence only brings chaos and suffering and she can do nothing about it. Perhaps rather than fleeing from this absurdity May is embracing it.

Even now talk of her "competence" has been silenced by reality, there are still frequent references in public discourse to her essential human decency. But where, really, is the evidence of this decency? In her stupid and brutal record as Home Secretary? In her historic opposition to LGBT rights? In her government's thoughtlessly clumsy implementation of Universal Credit? In her cringing deference to Donald Trump? In her personal enthusiasm for having foxes torn apart by dogs?

Perhaps spreading chaos and suffering is what May, the Camus-style liberated absurd hero, wants to do. Seen this way, her incompetence isn't a mistake: it's a manifestation of exactly what she wants to achieve. And this – nothing else – is why she chooses to remain in office. The nightmare was the dream after all. One must imagine Theresa May happy.

@HealthUntoDeath