HERE is a cut-out-and-keep guide to Tory views on society. For Margaret Thatcher, there was so such thing as; David Cameron liked his big; and now Theresa May tells us that she prefers her shared.
Mrs May has been prime minister for six months now – and all everyone wants to go on about is Brexit.
That’s because Brexit is a giant boulder on her shoulders, weighing her down and making her a little bit bad-tempered seeming. “What the hell am I going to do about this?” her mind screams. She leaves her mind to it and calls on the power of her brittle half-smile. That half-smile has seen off bigger problems that this; that half-smile was found buried between David Cameron’s shoulder blades when his political body was removed from Number Ten.
Her first speech on the steps of Downing Street tried to embrace the forgotten people and those just-about-managing – and it’s a detention for anyone at the back caught mumbling about people being forgotten by her party and jamming because of her lot’s priorities.
Mrs May returned to that theme on Monday while delivering a speech to the Charity Commission. It was a dull speech, but then Theresa seems to have skipped political oratory classes. Exciting and interesting doesn’t really suit her; steady as she goes on and on is more her way.
Her speech was an attempt to swipe the Labour Party’s social justice cloak. Or social justice crumpled jacket in Jeremy Corbyn’s case. She promised that her government will tackle “everyday injustices” faced by working-class Britons. And she pledged to build “a shared society” that respects the “bonds of family, community, citizenship and strong institutions”.
As she played this game of drones, it was hard to see how the shared society was much different to the big one David went on about until he was pink in the face. Or even more pink in the face than normal. David stopped working himself up about the big society because no one else knew what he was on about.
I suspect the shared society will fall down a similar crack in the nation’s collective consciousness. What struck me most was the thought that Mrs May had perhaps remembered going into a Co-op shop when she was a girl and seeing that slogan about “caring and sharing”.
It was all very vague and most of it could have been said by politicians of any persuasion. You couldn’t object to her well-meant homilies – but you couldn’t get excited about them either. Or believe that any of this will happen.
A journalist at the speech annoyed Mrs May by asking her about that boulder. The prime minister turned testy. Why did people insist on going on about Brexit when she was offering them fresh waffle?
Her speech did contain a welcome commitment on mental health, but that too was vague. And was the money new money or the same money that David Cameron promised a year back?
As the prime minister finished speaking, a siren tore through the air and reminded everyone that the National Health Service was in crisis again, as always happens, whether society is not there, big or shared.
Frontline doctors belonging to the Royal College of Emergency Medicine warned that patient safety was at risk at A&E units across the NHS because hospitals were overwhelmed. Never mind, health secretary Jeremy Hunt had the answer. It was all down to people going into A&E when they should have stayed at home – with as many as 30 per cent of those who attend not really needing to see a doctor.
Hunt then announced in Parliament that the four-hour target to see a doctor in A&E might have to be downgraded. How that man stays in his job is a mystery as weighty as that boulder on Theresa May’s shoulders.