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Home | 2017 | September

Theresa goes shopping in Florence

Posted by Thersites on UTC 2017-09-23 12:02.

We usually keep away from day-to-day politics on this blog: we are lazy, consequently slow off the mark and there really are plenty of much better-informed people opining on other websites.

A few aspects of the speech Theresa May gave in Florence yesterday, 22 September, nudged us out of our slumber, so bad were they.

The Florence conundrum

Firstly, why go to Florence to deliver a speech about Brexit and the future of Britain? Why force the UK political media pack to go to Florence to listen to the British Prime Minister make a speech? Unless there were pressing reasons in her busy diary to be in Florence on that Friday, why not just make the speech in London, where everyone who cares is already located?

Her speech attempts to make capital from the venue, but first we have to get over the introductory waffle copied mindlessly from American politics:

It's good to be here in this great city of Florence today at a critical time in the evolution of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

No, it's not 'good to be here': you chose to be here – how is that 'good'? In giving the 'great city of Florence' a stroke she unthinkingly endorses the Italian political sewer that currently runs it. Anyone slightly less dim would have said 'in Florence, a city with a great medieval history'.

So why has she chosen Florence to make this speech? Her reason is a depressingly illiterate review of European history:

It was here, more than anywhere else, that the Renaissance began – a period of history that inspired centuries of creativity and critical thought across our continent and which in many ways defined what it meant to be European.

Florence was not the place, 'more than anywhere else', where the Renaissance 'began'. The Renaissance did not inspire 'centuries of creativity and critical thought'. In dim Theresa's mind the Renaissance appears to be mixed up with the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution – some sort of soft-focus softiness.

Do we need to list all the nasty things that happened to people who had 'critical thoughts' during the time of the Renaissance? Do we need to list the mayhem and murder there was in Florence under those lovelies, the Medicis? Doesn't she realise that one of Florence's most famous children was Niccolò Machiavelli?

'[The Renaissance] in many ways defined what it meant to be European'. We are still waiting for someone to come up with this definition. Starting with her fantasy Renaissance we have to get past the collapse of the Italian city states, the collapse of papal authority, the collapse of the feudal order, the growth of the nation state – which all gets us to about 1950 before anyone important starts talking about a European political entity. 'Europe' and 'European' were, until then, exclusively geographical terms. A British Prime Minister should know better than to make speeches which adopt and propagate the 'Newspeak' terminology of the European Union's own foundation myth:

A period of history whose example shaped the modern world. A period of history that teaches us that when we come together in a spirit of ambition and innovation, we have it within ourselves to do great things.

This rhetorical rubbish is simply not worth the effort of deconstruction. Can you imagine Winston Churchill or Harold Macmillan talking like this? Whilst this 'period of history' was 'shaping the world' there were more than 500 years of slaughter, oppression, persecution and war, culminating in the European World Wars. On this blog we frequently quote Jefferson's observation in the 1820s that the 'cannibals of Europe' were eating each other again – they had done so for centuries, Renaissance or no Renaissance.

Shopping-list politics

Not to worry: Mrs Shopping-List soon reverts to type: 'crack down on the evil traffickers'; 'fight against terrorism'; 'preventing terrorist use of the Internet'; 'the weakening growth of global trade'; 'the loss of popular support for the forces of liberalism and free trade that is driving moves towards protectionism' [Trump, you thug!]; 'the threat of climate change depleting and degrading the planet' [Trump, you thug!].

Well, she's already tackled the last one by getting all the main participants in her speech to jet off to Italy. She's not finished yet, though:

'[O]utrageous proliferation of nuclear weapons by North Korea', to which her response is to send a stern note; 'territorial aggression to the east' [Putin, you thug!]; 'and from the South[sic] threats from instability and civil war'. Not really too sure where this 'South' is.

After a few more paragraphs of blather she then contradicts her paragraph about the 'period of history whose example shaped the modern world':

The strength of feeling that the British people have about this need for control and the direct accountability of their politicians is one reason why, throughout its membership, the United Kingdom has never totally felt at home being in the European Union.

And perhaps because of our history and geography, the European Union never felt to us like an integral part of our national story in the way it does to so many elsewhere in Europe.

The former Remainer is now telling her people that they never felt at home in the EU, probably the first true statement she has made in this speech. Fortunately, after the attempt at Churchillian analysis, Mrs Shopping-List once more reverts to type and ticks her way through a long list of breakfast cereals negotiating items, thus sending her own negotiators to the back of the bus.

Details without details

Most of the items do not bear further examination – they are simply details without details and issues without resolutions. An example is her statement on the most vexed question of the referendum campaign, the issue that dare not speak its name, immigration from the EU:

For example, it will take time to put in place the new immigration system required to re-take control of the UK's borders.

So during the implementation period, people will continue to be able to come and live and work in the UK; but there will be a registration system – an essential preparation for the new regime.

This means open borders for EU nationals for another four(?) years, but at least the UK will register them. Bearing in mind the fact that UK nationals have always had to register their residence in the EU, this announcement is mystifying. On the subject of UK nationals living in the EU, suddenly the detail runs out and the syntax collapses:

We have also made significant progress on how we look after European nationals living in the UK and British nationals living in the 27 Member States of the EU.

It is not clear who exactly these two 'we's are, she seems to have taken possession of both negotiating teams, but essentially, without waiting for the EU to state its own position on UK nationals who are already resident in the EU, she has already crumpled:

I am clear that the guarantee I am giving on your [EU citizens'] rights is real.

She 'is clear' that the 'guarantee' is 'real'. Good grief.

Bring on the Borgias

This speech reveals Theresa May's defects: she's dim, she's ill-educated, she's authoritarian and she has a shopping-list mind that is incapable of strategic vision. She chooses to insult the USA with a snide remark whilst simultaneously hoping for an advantageous trade deal with it. She insults Russia, also a potential trading partner, when really the eastern borders of the EU will no longer be our problem; the EU opportunistically picked the fight with Russia, let it finish it on its own.

This speech was presumably vetted by a lot of people. If this is the standard of her advisors then the sooner the useless Tory party gets rid of her and all those around her, the better. There are times when only a good Medici or Borgia will do.