The Greasy Pole column from the March 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
It is some time now since we could expect to be warmed and comforted by those big, declaratory Monday morning newspaper photographs of Prime Minister Theresa May, pondering on the most hopeful date to call the next election and how meanwhile she might wrestle with the likes of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Liam Fox (remember him?), Gavin Williamson . . . She was obediently tailed by her husband James May and in accord with their respective backgrounds they were then emerging from some parish church not far from the Chiltern Hills. Mr May was smiling, which could have been motivated by the fact that he is a top executive of one of the biggest and most powerful financial institutions which controls assets worth trillions of dollars, including shares in Amazon and the popular coffee house Starbucks, which have both been listed by Theresa May in her sights for action (or whatever it is) against the keenest of tax avoiders. A lot has happened since then to undermine the political standing of the Prime Minister and her partner. For example there has been the exposure of the relationship between so many of their followers and assistants which has been such as to justify the term ‘inappropriate behaviour’ which means the opposite of something suitable and proper. It is called sexual abuse.
But on that day, making their way from that local manufactory of delusion, Mrs May and her husband gave no hint that they were in fear of any particular crisis awaiting them in Westminster and beyond. Which probably made it more difficult for them to confront their raw feelings about what their supporters in Parliament and beyond had been up to. There was the brutal reality about the sexual misconduct of a clutch of Honourable Members towards party members and supporters, even as the facts were beginning to emerge. Much of it was revealed in what rapidly became known as the Spreadsheet of Shame – a survey which named 36 particular performers on that score. The events – the abuses – revealed in that document included ’handsy behaviour’ or of a former Member suggesting to his secretary that she might enjoy it to ‘feel’ how long his penis was or another planning to encourage a staff member to get drunk to assist his unwanted sexual advances.
Notably prominent – to his own discomfort – in all of this has been Mark Garnier the Conservative MP for Wyre Forest Worcestershire, whose local opponents are likely to be undermined by the very existence of the thousands who regularly support him. Garnier attended a couple of expensive local schools after which he became a junior clerk in an investment bank in London. This led to a partnership in a firm of hedge fund managers. In his politics he has contested Wyre Forest four times as a Tory. On his first attempt there he lost to an independent candidate but after that in 2010, 2015 and 2017 he won and his present majority is in the region of 13,000. Political climbing runs in the family; a cousin of his did a spell as Solicitor General and he himself was Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Trade from July 2016 until being sacked in January 2018 – an event which was greeted by a local councillor who ‘. . . would just like to congratulate Theresa May on making a very sensible decision . . . definitely the right move by the Prime Minister’. At that time Garnier was operating in a style which involved him asking his secretary, one Caroline Edmondson, to buy him some sex toys in a Soho shop while he publicly lauded her as a ‘sugar-tits’. The official government line on Garnier’s sacking was that it was to make way for new blood while he was also in breach of the ministerial code – except that this was contradicted soon afterwards when he was cleared by an official enquiry. Not surprisingly Garnier blurted out that he was bitterly disappointed at being punished for behaviour which he was assessed as not responsible for. It did not seem to occur to him that this was typical of the ruthless, unpredictable technique in the world of capitalist ’justice’. Then there was Damian Green who was until recently one of Theresa May’s special favourites as her First Secretary of State – effectively Deputy Prime Minister – until she had to ‘ask’ him to resign because he was so deeply involved in activities which once encouraged his then future wife to comment that ‘He’s got a very strong sex drive, he’s just not all that discriminating’.
The affair of the misbehaving MPs, the appointments, the disputes, the sackings, was in response to their ‘inappropriate’ behaviour – a fascinating word for use in survival, even success, in the political world. To begin with, it does have some effect in diminishing the gravity of some of the MP’s actions, for example when the focus was on Mark Garnier. But there are many examples of governmental policies and actions which are considered as ‘appropriate’ but which in their effects are of the cruellest, and most damaging. One of the more recent was a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which described the day to day effects of governmental policies which operate in response to the current problems of British capitalism. Helen Barnard who is head of analysis of the Rowntree Foundation, is quite clear about this: ‘Low-income households are facing a difficult 2018, with rising prices, frozen benefits and a wage squeeze all putting further pressure on household incomes’.
If Theresa May, as she drifted through the church door that day, had asked herself how effectively she could continue to play a role in this class divided society she might have felt the need to use that word ‘appropriate’. For this is typical of the crime against our very language, of how capitalism distorts every aspect of our lives. It is only the socialists who stand and work against this malignant chaos.