‘Maybot’ doth protest too much

Last week, our worshipful overlord Mrs May, told Test Match Special, and I quote; ‘I’m not robotic’. Funny, that’s just what a robot would say. Coincidence? I think not…

On a serious note though, this interview was a wince-inducing affair, and served only to further highlight just how numbered our Prime Minister’s days really are. I generally don’t make a habit of agreeing with an Evening Standard editor, much less a former Tory Chancellor for that matter, but George Osborne’s description of Theresa May as ‘a dead woman walking’ is spot on. She continues to drift from gaffe to gaffe, appearing allergic to ordinary people, making 2015 Ed Miliband look like the epitome of at ease in the spotlight, and as if she is an impressively designed robot developed by Tory-supportive scientists.

AI Takeover is a theory supported by minds as impressive as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, in which artificial intelligence, i.e. robots, will take over the world, and rule over the human race. Is Theresa May the first step towards this? She is the Prime Minister of one of the most influential countries on the planet (for now… enter Brexit). I would reassure Hawking and Musk that they needn’t panic though, because her reign of misery will not last the duration of this Parliament. Yes, you can quote me on that.

Personally, it bothers me that we as a society are so focussed on personality politics. If I had it my way, it would be the policies that take centre stage in General Elections. Manifestos would be distributed to every household, and people would make informed decisions about which policy platforms they bought into. Alas, in the current political climate, this dream is akin to pretending the Brexit result didn’t happen, staying within the EU without another vote and just hoping no one notices. We live in an age when personalities matter in politics.

To a degree, this was Miliband’s downfall in 2015. I have an abundance of time for Ed; he strikes me as a genuine and compassionate man, whose principles always lay closer to Labour’s most recent manifesto, but he was influenced by the wrong people and spent 5 years in a perpetual state of triangulation. However, it was his apparent ‘awkwardness’ that the press media focussed on. Don’t get me wrong, the media presentation of Miliband was nothing shy of a disgrace at best, and downright anti-Semitic at worse. Nonetheless, enough front-page splashes of unflattering bacon sandwich incidents and viral videos of uncomfortable street encounters with homeless people, helped to paint a picture of Ed as a ‘weird’ or ‘geeky’ character, which ultimately led to electoral cyanide – a perception of weakness. This was Ed’s largest hindrance on the doorstep.

Conversely, I don’t think the media perception of May has been quite so unfair, and no, that’s not just because “she’s from the nasty Tory party”. In 2015, while Cameron was at ease when speaking publicly, it’s not like he drew mass crowds or he was showcased as comfortable speaking with individual voters (remember ‘Cool Cameron’ who hugged hoodies and huskies?), so the media didn’t have so much of an obvious contrast to draw between him and Miliband. Thusly, they decided to double down on their image assassination of Ed. In 2017, there was genuine contrast for the press to draw upon.

Corbyn’s General Election was almost like no other. As a campaign it certainly wasn’t flawless, as I’ve touched upon previously, but the imagery it generated was the kind that any campaign co-ordinator would wilfully give up a relatively vital organ for. Enormous crowds of adoring fans, countless touching moments of one-on-one interactions with voters, an abundance of energetic youth support, and even a popular chant dedicated to the Labour leader. Jeremy Corbyn – a politician – attained rock-star status. This made the media’s attempts at malicious smears redundant, not only because they were virtually out of ammunition after 2 years of vociferous slurs, but because a picture (and in this age, a short video clip on Twitter) can speak a thousand words. It’s difficult to take a ‘Cor-Bin’ headline seriously when social media is ablaze with gifs and clips of Corbyn addressing a fully packed-out football stadium chanting his name to the tune of ‘Seven Nation Army’.

The distinction was dazzling. May addresses carefully-selected small room of local party activists vs. Corbyn addresses thousands of the general public on the streets of Manchester. May addresses a quiet room of bored factory workers in Somerset vs. Corbyn makes a bold late entrance to a televised leadership debate and empty-chairs the Prime Minister. Even since the election; May speaks with emergency services but avoids residents and is whisked away in a security convoy vs. Corbyn listens to, consoles and hugs victims of Grenfell. This constant contrast is poignant, and there’s a reason for it.

The media present May as robotic and unable to sympathise with regular people because that’s how she positioned herself in this election. It’s well-documented that the Tories chose to run the election like a Presidential campaign, contrasting May’s ‘strong and stable’ leadership with Corbyn’s weakness and the prospect of his ‘coalition of chaos’ (and how this disastrously backfired), but this is a major factor behind her current media presentation. The Tories didn’t go into the campaign trying to highlight May’s empathy. Far from it, they were trying to tap into the cult of Thatcher and position her as the stiff-upper-lipped, serious and natural leader who was required to steer the British ship through these turbulent, Brussels bureaucrat-infested international waters. This was part of the reason she didn’t attend the leadership debate that Corbyn did; she had to appear Prime Ministerial – above this petty politicking and focused on the governmental task at hand.

In addition, May has generally always had a fairly cold persona in the public sphere. Through her tough stances on immigration (‘Go Home’ vans anyone?), her political manoeuvring in Cameron’s cabinet, and her swiftness in filling her own cabinet with loyalists like Amber Rudd and vanquishing foes like George Osborne; Theresa May has never screamed ‘warm, compassionate person’ in her sum me up in three words biopic. Throw in the fact that Corbyn always has – even his most ardent political opponents within the Parliamentary Labour Party have always been quick to preface their withering condemnations of his leadership abilities with a personal anecdote or remark about the genuine and kind nature of Jeremy as a person – and it’s hardly surprising that May has been redubbed ‘Maybot’.

Let me make one thing clear; the media and the political class are dangerously fast to criticise women in the public arena who they deem as ‘strict’, ‘bossy’, or ‘dour’. This emanates from a patriarchal society that would hesitate to attack male public figures on the same grounds. Let’s call it what it is, this emanates from unsubtle sexism. However, in a parallel universe where Philip Hammond’s lofty ambitions were realised and he led the Tories into the 2017 election, for the most part, you could just remove ‘May’ and insert ‘Hammond’ at every mention within this article as he comes across as similarly uncompassionate, uncomfortable and robotic. Furthermore, May’s machinelike presentation has nothing to do with her gender, but perhaps more to do with her privilege.

Unfortunate photo-ops and misguided media appearances aside, the staunchest May ally can’t deny she struggles (well, for the most part fails entirely) to connect with ordinary people on a human level. We saw it time and again in the election and we continue to see it since her return to Downing Street. There’s no escaping the fact she looks uncomfortable, out of her depth, even a hint disdainful when speaking to the average Joe.

This is not uncommon in a political class that is in no small part comprised of a privileged group who have never experienced the daily struggles of many ordinary people, however there are plenty of those in Westminster who are still able to (or at least pull off the pretence remarkably well) empathise with broad sections of the electorate – and this is what connects with people. This quality is one that the Prime Minister may well lack entirely; lest we forget, this is a politician who has long been active in the highest realms of a government that has systematically and maliciously targeted the most vulnerable in our society with swingeing cuts and an austerity programme that’s left morality at the door. Or we could give her the benefit of the doubt and surmise that she is a genuinely compassionate and empathetic person, who is just incapable of conveying this at every single opportunity she is presented with. Either way, after the way she ran her campaign, how she’s decided to position and present herself, she’s fair game now.

May’s a robot, I’m calling it.

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