She’s back. After a year of drift, our doughty, no-nonsense Prime Minister seems to have returned.
In the wake of the Salisbury poisoning, Theresa May has reminded the country of the qualities it once admired most in her. She has been firm, resolute, decisive – to borrow a phrase, strong and stable.
Her package of sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s regime was cautious and measured – 23 diplomats expelled, the Russian foreign minister disinvited to the UK, and ministers and Royals told to snub the World Cup. This was a response carefully calibrated to send a signal without escalating an already tense situation.
It has been in the Prime Minister’s statements to the Commons that she has displayed her mettle, giving Britons clear and determined leadership at a time of acute unease and even alarm.
She told MPs: ‘We will not tolerate the threat to the life of British people and others on British soil from the Russian government. Nor will we tolerate such a flagrant breach of Russia’s international obligations…
‘This was not just an act of attempted murder in Salisbury, nor just an act against the UK. It is an affront to the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons, and it is an affront to the rules-based system on which we and our international partners depend. We will work with our allies and partners to confront such actions wherever they threaten our security at home and abroad.’
The contrast with the Leader of Her Majesty’s nominally Loyal Opposition could not have been more dramatic. As of writing, Jeremy Corbyn has still to condemn unequivocally the Russian state as the culpable party in the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.
He has used Parliamentary appearances for partisan attacks on the Tories, sharpening divisions at a fractious juncture. He even demanded that the Kremlin be given ‘a sample of the agent used in the Salisbury attack to run their own tests’.
It is a far cry from the convention that the Government and opposition co-operate in times of threat. Mr Corbyn has not only broken with that norm but with the tradition of his own party.
When Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands in 1982, Michael Foot dazzled the House with a fiery speech damning General Galtieri’s ‘act of naked, unqualified aggression, carried out in the most shameful, disreputable circumstances’.
It was Left-wing hero Aneurin Bevan who warned Labour against unilateral surrender of nuclear weapons, telling his party’s 1957 conference that doing so would ‘send a foreign secretary… naked into the conference chamber’. That was not statesmanship, Bevan chided, but ‘an emotional spasm’.
Foot and Bevan were patriots. Mr Corbyn may love his country, too, but he cannot see far enough past its faults to resent its enemies. What political damage this imparts will depend on whether there are further Russian crimes against Britain’s interests.
It has been left to those of good conscience who remain in the Labour Party to articulate a sensible centre-Left response. MP Anna Turley, a fierce critic of the Tory Government on every issue, backed Mrs May’s measures and called on her party to do likewise.
She warned: ‘It is not the time for party politics. What the world needs to see is a Britain united in condemnation and resolute in action, and a strong response from the top, starting with the Government and echoed throughout parliament.’
However, tough talk is not enough. As Boris Johnson told Andrew Marr yesterday, the Chancellor must find more cash to ‘make sure we are adequately defended’. That means boosting the defence and policing budgets; Mrs May learned the cost of her police cuts during the last election.
Now is the time to upgrade MoD spending from 2 to 3 per cent of GDP, placing us ahead of Russia in the military expenditure league tables. The firepower this could buy would make Mr Putin think twice before setting his goons on a British national.
This is Mrs May’s métier. She is not a celebrity nor an iconic T-shirt in the making. You wouldn’t invite her to headline at anything wilder than a scone-making competition.
But she is sober, deliberate and knows the national security brief inside out. Britain does not need a personality cult, it needs a Prime Minister. Imagine that when the Salisbury call came in, it was Mr Corbyn who answered the phone.
No doubt Mrs May would have preferred not to confront such a test in the middle of Brexit. The Europeans have treated her as a figure of fun since her ballot box humbling last June. After all the talk of the Iron Lady II, she was judged of flimsier alloy and Mrs Strong and Stable gave way to Auntie Calamity.
This emboldened Brussels to take a tougher line in negotiations. The Skripal attack is a grisly reminder that we live in serious times and cannot afford the indulgence of petty positioning.
The UK and the EU have a common adversary in the Kremlin will have to intensify security and intelligence co-operation to frustrate Moscow’s schemes. Whatever the rights and wrongs of Brexit, it is happening and it is in no one’s interests to prolong the process out of petulance or politics.
The outrage in Salisbury could easily be repeated in Strasbourg, Stuttgart or Stockholm. Brexit is a chance to brandish the strength and unity of the democratic West: even as London and Brussels split, free nations are unanimous in their determination to defeat thuggery and uphold international law.
Theresa May must seize this opportunity and lead the fightback against an increasingly belligerent and expansionist Russia. If she does, the voters may warm once again to Mrs Strong and Stable and turn to her to safeguard Britain not only from external foes but from the appeasing ways of Mr Weak and Weaselly.
Labour’s transformation into the BNP with correct gender pronouns continues apace.
Two Haringey councillors have spoken about endemic anti-Semitism in the north London enclave currently being colonised by the far Left. Joe Goldberg claimed a Labour councillor accused him of practising ‘bagel-barrel politics’ and compared academy schools to Kristallnacht.
Mr Goldberg said: ‘Many members have repeated to me assertions about Jews having big noses, controlling the media and being wealthy. It’s become impossible to operate as a Jewish councillor in the Haringey party.’
When the councillor announced he would not seek re-selection, an activist for Momentum said he would have ‘more time to count your money’. Natan Doron says he was confronted by Labour activists while campaigning and told Israel was a Nazi state.
Those of us who warned early on that this would happen were shouted down and smeared. There is no comfort in knowing we were right. Only despair at the death of a decent party that once stood up to racism.
This St Patrick’s Day I raised nothing stronger than a steaming mug of Lemsip, confined as I was to bed suffering the torments of flu. Female readers will be unfamiliar with this condition, but symptoms include spluttering ‘How much for a bottle of Benylin?!’ and the inability to perform basic functions such as operating the television remote control or going down the pub.
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Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Feature image © Downing Street by Creative Commons 2.0.