Even a stopped clock tells the correct time twice a day. And, for the first time in a long time, Theresa May has acted swiftly, decisively and, – above all – correctly by suspending Tory MP Anne Marie Morris for using a grossly offensive racial slur.
For the past 8 weeks, May has been living one of those nightmares that she just can’t seem to wake up from. The election result in June was the worst of all possible outcomes for her: had she retained her majority, she could have carried on as before and re-built confidence; had either Labour or a Labour-led coalition won a majority, she could have slinked off into quiet obscurity. Neither happened. Instead, May was cast into the political purgatory of a hung parliament, where she must toil in Sulphur night and day to work off her sins before her soul can ascend into the Prime Ministerial heaven of after dinner speaking engagements and Middle Eastern peace envoyship.
The tragicomic paradox of May’s current position is that the Office of Prime Minister is now so unenviable that the would-be-plotters in her own party dare not stab her in the back for fear that they themselves might end up in her shoes: the PM leading a minority government with a tarnished legislative mandate trying to negotiate Brexit. Any Conservative politician with a single ounce of either ambition or sense is currently trying to keep as low a profile as possible. Meanwhile Theresa May, shell-shocked and alone, wanders around each day outside the senate, garland headed and longing for her opportunity to say the words “et tu, Boris”.
And, as if a cabal of conspirators lacking the common curtsey to euthanize you wasn’t enough, May then received a confidence-sapping crash course in negotiation from the DUP in advance of the Brexit talks. The Northern Irish Unionists comprehensively schooled the UK Prime Minister. Coalition governments, while rare in Westminster, are constitutionally mandated in Stormont. D’Hont governments, by their very nature, comprise of a power sharing executives. And those sharing the power aren’t just divided over the cost of university education or who owns the choo-choos: political disputes in the province, until fairly recently, were settled by trial-by-armalite. Hard-edged, high-stakes negotiation, in other words, is bread-and-butter for the DUP; a fact all too obvious as they waltzed out the front door of Number 10 £1bn richer and with the state silverware stuffed into their portmanteaus.
So when Anne Marie Morris was recorded dropping the n-bomb with veritable gay abandon, it presented Theresa May with an open goal even she couldn’t miss. And, to her qualified credit, she didn’t. Within the English language, there is a small, closed list of words you just do not say under any circumstances; you do not say them in anger, you do not say them in jest and you certainly do not say them as part of a visual metaphor relating to woodpiles. Right at the top of that list is the n-word. Even shorn of its historical connotations, the word just sounds offensive. It is sharp, condescending; ridged and bookended with hard consonants. But, placed in its proper context, buckling under the full weight of Britain’s shameful history towards Africa throughout empire and the slave trade, it is a truly disgusting word.
The incident also hinted at more, however: scratch beneath the shiny, media-managed exterior of the modern Tories and you find the same old nasty party. Would Ms Morris have said the n word had she known the recording was going to get out? Of course not. This was a Tory caught off-guard, betraying their true feelings in public. It was beyond damage limitation, and instant dismissal was the only solution.
There is however one positive to come out of the affair: the Tories are now only 5 racist recordings away from losing their parliamentary majority altogether…