Theresa May would like us all to believe that she and the government offer “strong and stable leadership”. In reality, her plans seem to be falling apart as she indulges in a fantasy of Britain as a world superpower able to dictate terms to our closest neighbours and beyond.

What we have is a political circus where no one knows which act will get star billing. The lion tamer, May, projects strength but does little to convince that her policies couldn’t be ripped apart. Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Philip Hammond, and David Davis have their own side shows and range from talented provocateurs to downright clownish.

It’s not unusual for politicians to try and project strength. Strong leadership is currently the fad for many populist politicians around the globe, giving rise to the new phrase ‘authoritarian populism’. Strength was the byword of the recent Turkish referendum in which President Erdogan won the ability to grant himself sweeping new powers. Yet Erdogan’s victory was narrow (only 51.4% for “Yes”) with the media here in the UK quick to report the result could be challenged. Of course, the same media rarely makes the case for challenging another recent referendum.

The lion tamer, May, projects strength but does little to convince that her policies couldn’t be ripped apart.

Interestingly, as in the UK’s EU referendum, Turkey’s vote saw wide discrepancies between metropolitan and rural areas. The districts containing Turkey’s three largest cities all voted against the president, in the same way cities here tended to vote against #brexit. ‘Strength’ then, seems to depend on who is projecting it.

Naturally, there will be some who say the UK cannot be compared to Turkey as we a stable democracy with safeguards. This can lead to apathy. Much of the electorate already feels there has been “too much politics going on” as recent viral sensation Brenda from Bristol put it. In reality, anti-brexit sentiment hasn’t gone away despite what May would like us to believe.

Last week I was present at the launch of a new group, Liverpool for Europe, reflecting the level of opposition to #brexit in the region. Walking towards the launch venue on Brunswick Street near Liverpool’s famous waterfront, I saw the EU’s blue flag prominently displayed. Professor Michael Dougan, from the University of Liverpool, was the invited speaker for the evening. A professor of EU Law, Dougan has seen his following grow since the vote in June. His online videos have views running into the millions and he has been invited to speak all over the country. It’s understandable: Dougan doesn’t mince his words, calling May’s government “viciously antidemocratic”. Brexiters, he contends, are still “fighting the campaign over and over” and not preparing the country for what lies ahead.

Professor Dougan at the Liverpool for Europe launch

Professor Dougan at the Liverpool for Europe launch event

There seems to be a wish among the pro-brexit camp that the opposition should simply vanish. With a landslide Conservative victory predicted in the upcoming general election, there is a real risk this will happen in Parliament. Yet there is confusion as to whether this will be because of May’s stance on #brexit, or down to Labour’s unpopularity. A low turnout in the local council elections last Thursday reflects the apathy of many.

This could be seen as much as a condemnation of Labour under Corbyn as any kind of endorsement for #brexit under May. Corbyn was greatly criticised for not fighting hard enough for UK to stay in the EU and many now feel he cannot provide an effective opposition. A surge in the number of young people registering to vote in the general election could yet prove a headache for the Conservatives, but this is far from certain.

It very much looks like Theresa May called this election before people begin feel the real pain and uncertainty leaving the EU will cause. Meant as a moment of strength, it increasingly appears as an acknowledgement of weakness.


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