Maggie, May…

MAGGIE and me didn’t get along. It was just one of those things. Everything about that woman got under my skin. Disliking her was a sort of awakening, a reminder of what to believe in; and, more importantly, what not to believe in.

Theresa May is often compared to Margaret Thatcher. Usually this is down to lack of imagination on the part of whoever is making the comparison. In short, the theory goes: she’s a woman too, so she must be Maggie Mark Two.

Last week, Mrs May gave a speech in which she attempted to clear up the Brexit bumble. This boiled down to telling us there would be a clean break with Europe, and that we would be sailing the high seas and forging new relationships with other countries (New Zealand may or may not have come into it). There was a lot of salty optimism in that speech.

And it is easy to see Mrs May as a figurehead on an old sailing ship, resolute and firm, and never mind the waves and the rocks, or the risk of being wrecked.

Her speech also contained a bit of dog-whistle racism and semi-hidden blaming of immigrants – the sort of noxious button-pushing that helped propel Donald Trump to the White House (and pardon me for this, but over the next four years that venerable building will be rechristened the Full of Shite House).

But let’s leave Trump out of it for today. Instead let’s consider a speech Margaret Thatcher gave about Europe on April 18, 1988 – something drawn to my attention while I was at work yesterday.

Thatcher outlined at length the benefits of the single European market in a speech diametrically opposed to everything Mrs May trots out whenever someone springs a nasty surprise on her by asking: “What happens next, Theresa?”

The speech was delivered at Lancaster House, where the present prime minister also gave her speech last week. It is recorded on the Margaret Thatcher Foundation website – a place I entered with all the trepidation of a teenager in a horror film. What shocks would await me in such a mansion of haunted memory?

Blowing away the cobwebs, and hoping that skeleton wasn’t the Lady herself, here are parts of what I found in a big old book:

“The task of government is two-fold: to negotiate in Brussels so as to get the possible results for Britain; and then to make you the business community aware of the opportunities, so that you can make the most of them.

“It’s your job, the job of business, to gear yourselves up to take the opportunities which a single market of nearly 320 million people will offer.

“Just think for a moment what a prospect that is. A single market without barriers – visible or invisible – giving you direct and unhindered access to the purchasing power of over 300 million of the world’s wealthiest and most prosperous people.

“Bigger than Japan. Bigger than the United States. On your doorstep. And with the Channel Tunnel to give you direct access to it. It’s not a dream. It’s not a vision. It’s not some bureaucrat’s plan. It’s for real. And it’s only five years away.”

Later in the speech, Thatcher said that “Britain has given the lead” over European trade.

Now I won’t ever fall in love with Maggie. Too much happened between us. It is too late for that relationship, and besides there is another awful woman in my life now. Theresa May might not be Margaret Thatcher, and may hate all the inevitable comparisons, but it is interesting that Thatcher, sainted heroine of the Tory right, should have made such a positive speech about the importance and benefits of the single market.

It’s just her shame that her disciples seem so blind to the obvious benefits of what Europe offers. Mrs May airily promises the benefits of a shackle-free life, while offering few concrete examples of how this brave new world will work.

And, I know it’s an obvious point, but Europe is a lot closer than all those distant places that may or may not come up trumps. Or even Trump’s.

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