Week in review: New year, new you, new political disasters

"This is a dangerous moment for team May."
"This is a dangerous moment for team May."
Ian Dunt By

New year, new you. Have you gone to the gym? Are you liquefying and downing kale in an attempt to add a few more miserable years to your life?

And how did that go? The wheezing on the treadmill, the ganky sour taste of an ugly vegetable made bizarrely popular by Californian narcissists? Terribly badly I presume. But fear not: you are not alone. If Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have any sense, they will have also made new year resolutions, the former not to allow Brexit to collapse into a disaster of Biblical proportions and the latter to present a borderline viable image as leader of the opposition. And guess what? They did about as well as you did at the gym, you lazy overweight monstrosity.

May began the year by losing her man in Brussels, Ivan Rogers, he of the 'it'll take ten years to sort this nonsense out' fame. It turns out that he wasn't really impressed with the quality of decision-making from ministers or the Brexit plan from Downing Street, on the basis that neither existed. His resignation letter to staff was a masterclass in gentlemanly civil service knife wielding. "Continue to challenge ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking", he advised. Whatever could he be alluding to?

Anyway, Rogers was subject to the standard treatment afforded by the press to anyone who questions the great religious zeal of the hard Brexit missionaries: He was libelled, over and over again, by commentator and minister alike. Too pessimistic, in league with his "mates" in Brussels, too untrustworthy, an elitist, someone whose patriotism was open to question.


In a mark of how seriously No.10 took the situation, a replacement - the exquisitely tailored and bearded Tim Barrow - was selected in around 24 hours. But the Rogers resignation, and his detailed, plainly exasperated letter, had confirmed the worst fears of critics of the government's Brexit strategy: no plan from No10, no understanding from ministers, no appreciation of the scale of the task on the government benches, a systemic politicisation of problem-solving and little negotiating capacity.

Things got worse for May as the week wore on. By the time the Economist was published on Thursday, it felt like it encapsulated the growing media interpretation of the prime minister. Above a stark black and white photo of the Tory leader, it read: "Theresa Maybe: Britain's indecisive premier". The article listed her U-turns or watering-downs: workers on boards, lists of foreign workers in firms, grammar schools, the list goes on. And it highlighted her chief internal problem - that it was unclear if she had majority Tory support for either a hard or a soft Brexit. Perhaps this figure, who looked upon entering Downing Street like a sturdy and reliable matron to clean up the mess the men had made of everything, was actually a perpetual ditherer with no credits to her name?

First impressions stick - they did for Gordon Brown when he was attacked with the same charge at roughly the same moment of his premiership - so this is a dangerous moment for team May. Her response will see her make a Brexit speech this week, her first substantive addition to the debate since the one opening the Tory conference in October and probably the last before she reveals more detailed Brexit plans ahead of Article 50.

She should be in major trouble but she has the undoubted advantage of being opposed by a Labour leader who barely seems present. Jeremy Corbyn is like the invisible man. He didn't say a word over the Rogers debacle. Let that sink in a moment. Not a word. About the government's EU ambassador. Quitting. Seemingly in protest. Just before the most demanding negotiations this country has faced in a generation. With the EU.

Not a word.

But he did say something about that Economists cover. He welcomed it. But also, because he is Jeremy Corbyn, he fitted in a bit of snark:

Standard Corbynism: Put the anti-media bit before the political attack bit. It's not even burying the lead. The anti-media bit is the lead. As some have pointed out, Donald Trump just won an election while berating the media all day long, so this stuff isn't necessarily damaging, but it's unclear if that will work for Corbyn. And by unclear, I mean vanishingly unlikely.

Realistically Corbyn's chances of looking like a viable political leader are looking no better than May's attempt to construct a non-suicidal Brexit plan. But you - you beautiful thing - are doing far better. Get some kale in you. Horrible isn't is? Juice it, down it, pretend it isn't happening. Pretend none of this is happening and your country's political system hasn't become a hollowed-out joke of imbecility and sustained delusion. The reduction in stress and despairing thoughts will likely be better for your health than that trip to the gym you're anyway going to avoid.

Ian Dunt is the editor of Politics.co.uk. His book - Brexit: What The Hell Happens Now? - is out this week from Canbury Press.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

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