Any doubts that UK Prime Minister Theresa May doesn't have a clue what she is doing have been well and truly dispelled by her Sunday Times column earlier in May. We now know for certain that the Prime Minister doesn't know what she is doing.
In her 800 word piece ("Trust me, I’ll take back control — but I’ll need your help"), Ms. May presents an uninspiring and contradictory case for self-preservation. Trust me with Brexit, she is saying, over and over again, as if by saying it she can make it happen. In fact, one paragraph consists of just a single sentence: "You can trust me to deliver" as if to ram the point home like she was speaking at a Conservative Party conference rather than a less than an adulatory audience.
In her defense, Ms. May made it clear during the referendum campaign that she was in favor of remaining a full member of the EU. Then the electorate voted (by a narrow margin) to Leave, her predecessor David Cameron resigned, and the vicar's daughter was left to pick up the pieces. It's been a thankless task; most Tories are probably thankful it isn't them trying to make the best of a bad job.
The PM certainly makes a bad job of presenting her argument, which appears to consist mostly of inane non-sequiturs, interspersed with optimistic hopes for the future she cannot guarantee and makes to attempt to explain how she'll actually achieve. To take one example, Ms. May promises to ensure the UK takes back control of its borders. That probably sounds good as a sound-bite, and immigration was unquestionably one of the principal reasons many (though not all) people voted Leave, but most of the public's concern has been about migration from the developing world and in particular from Muslim-majority countries and leaving the EU will make no difference on that score; in fact, EU countries might be even less inclined to co-operate with the UK than is currently the case. Besides, Ms. May's record as Home Secretary hardly inspires confidence; nor does the latest attempt to "control" immigration which resulted in the Windrush fiasco and May's successor as Home Secretary Amber Rudd losing her job.
Also on May's wish list are plans to "take back control of our money", which is bizarre because to my knowledge no-one—not even Ukip fanatics—has ever claimed the EU "controls" the UK's finances. We will take back control of our laws, says May - apparently a nod to the populist belief that all UK law is now made in Brussels and there's nothing we can do about it. (May also seems to be conflating the EU with the totally separate European Court of Human Rights.)
However, it is on Northern Ireland that May exposes the paucity of her own vision. There can be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic (which remains in the EU), she says, OR between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Now, one of these might be achievable - but not both. If there is no hard border between the North and the Republic, and between the North and mainland Britain, how will goods and people be controlled, as May promises?
Northern Ireland, to be fair, isn't Mrs. May's "fault." There have been tensions between Britain (or rather, England) and Ireland for 800 years; my Irish nan used to say, "If you have the answer to the Irish problem you don't understand the question." I still recall that particularly "hard border" between North and South, with heavily fortified watch-towers, frequent deadly attacks, and IRA road signs warning of snipers ahead. We thought we'd left all that behind 20 years ago; but when the debate around Brexit was taking place, incredibly, unforgivably, Ireland didn't get a mention. Yet now Ms. May can only win most Commons votes with the support of the pro-Unionist DUP, who have been predictably vocal about their refusal to countenance the Six Counties being treated any different to, say, Wales or Cornwall. It's a slow-ticking time bomb that could easily explode - if you'll pardon the simile - in Ms. May's face.
The weirdest thing about May's plea for time and patience is that there was probably no need to make it. With Boris Johnson's star in terminal freefall, there are no serious contenders for the leadership crown; no-one else wants the job. And astonishingly, despite Chief May's many personal failings - a lack of vision, passion, and empathy chief among them - the Conservatives remain ahead of Labour in the polls.
Between them, the main political parties have somehow conspired to make themselves totally irrelevant; most of the electorate, numb with apathy and cynicism, have stopped paying attention to their so-called leaders and simply keep calm and carry on regardless. I'm reminded of Belgium, which tootled along fairly well without any form of government for 589 days in 2010-11. Or so it seemed at the time; it was only afterward when people realized the damage that had been done. A more salient comparison might be Northern Ireland, where there has been no functioning government for over a year; the political stalemate is having a detrimental impact on a number of areas, health in particular. Decisions and deals aren't being made; everyone loses. A reminder that democracy isn't just the least-worst means of running a country; without democracy, a country cannot run. Or if it does, it usually runs itself into the ground.
Political Journalist (London) and Author