Listen: Cohen talks to Prospect Editor Tom Clark in the ninth edition of Headspace, our monthly podcast
All opinion pieces boil down to two headlines: “it’s the end of the world as we know it” and “don’t get carried away.” The tabloids incite hysteria, indeed their business models would collapse if they did not. In their rare moments of sobriety, the sober pundits of the serious press sigh, and tell us not to worry because continuity always trumps change.
One might think, after 12 months when history has more than lived up to its billing of “one damn thing after another,” the time for sobriety has long passed. Yet behind discussions of Theresa May’s coming victory there lies a complacent thought that she has no real agenda for change. According to this reading, May is asking for a blank cheque at this election but has no idea what she would like to write on it.
You can reach the wrong conclusion for all the right reasons, and there is much truth in the notion that our prime minister is as blank as any cheque. Wooden and clumsy, May has no vitality. Like a jobsworth middle manager, she repeats the corporate line. Like a snowflake student activist, she cannot handle free debate.
Above all else, she has no guiding idea. The reason why she cannot answer hard questions is that nothing flows from being Theresa May. Margaret Thatcher had a Cold War capitalist ideology that she used to cope with whatever crises history threw at her. Tony Blair had his Atlanticist attachment to American power, and determination to modernise Britain. May appears to have nothing. There is no Mayism. There are no Mayites. The intellectuals and think tanks previous prime ministers carried with them to define their ideas and refine their policies are nowhere to be seen.
“Theresa Maybe,” the Economist called her. “The risk-averse May will win her mandate,” said my own newspaper the Observer. “The question will remain: a mandate for what?” It’s a good question. But don’t assume the soothing reply that a Whitehall on auto-pilot will carry on as before, because that misses the political revolution in Britain.
For the first time in nearly 30 years, the right is united…