The language surrounding May’s General Election announcement is worrying, says Noah FroudTwitter/Daily Mail U.K.

The Mail, as always, is getting a lot of criticism for its headline today. “Crush the Saboteurs”, it says, paraphrasing Theresa May’s speech yesterday. It fits with the narrative the Conservatives have been peddling for a long time: that Theresa May is strong and that she is on the side of the British people, against the few who stand against them.

But to be fair to the Mail, their headline is essentially accurate – it isn’t far from what May actually said. Yesterday, as May announced the General Election her rhetoric sounded like something we might hear from a leader of what is often termed an ‘illiberal democracy’ – countries such as Egypt, Russia or (now) Turkey, where the votes of the majority are used to brutally crush any minority who might have something different to say.

It doesn’t sound like something from a liberal democracy where opposition is not just tolerated but seen as a vital part of the national interest.

May said other parties opposed “the national interest” in their attempts to act as an effective opposition. By doing this, not only did she ignore the 48 per cent of people who voted to Remain, but she ignored all those in the 52 per cent who do not hold the same vision of Brexit as she does. She continued to push populist rhetoric by saying that Westminster was divided while the nation was united. It’s the people who are righteous, she implied, but the politicians are traitors.

“May’s image of strength is simply fake”

May, like other rising politicians across the world, has always sought to portray herself as a strong leader. She’s been successful in this: her honeymoon period in the polls never really ended and she is more popular than David Cameron ever was.

The Conservative Party also has form when it comes to branding the opposition dangerous to the ‘national interest’. It was done against Miliband through spressing fear of a coalition with the SNP, and it was done from day one against Jeremy Corbyn. What yesterday’s speech and today’s headline show is the Conservatives ramping this up a gear. No longer a ‘danger’ through alleged incompetence, the opposition are now traitors, ‘saboteurs’.

May’s image of strength is simply fake. May has called her election now because she must – she has very little choice. As many as 30 individuals in the Conservative Party are allegedly facing prosecution for electoral fraud in key swing seats in 2015. This would trigger a wave of by-elections.

May also faces rebellion in her own party – back-benchers revolted over the planned rise to National Insurance contributions in the last budget. May’s ideological project is in fundamental conflict with many Conservative MPs who believe in small state with low tax, so she now desperately needs to increase her majority to increase the number of MPs who will follow her. She tasted a humiliating defeat over the last budget; she doesn’t want to do it again.

Despite what May said yesterday, the economy isn’t looking good for most people: inflation is rising, while wages are stagnating. She knows that this will only get worse as Article 50 negotiations continue and the economy remains in a precarious international position.

May also knows that she will have to continue to deliver unpopular budgets with cuts to public services. She can’t ignore how unpopular austerity is – there’s a very real prospect even long-term Tory supporters could switch to Labour over the Tory’s handling of the NHS. Sooner or later voters will join the dots and realise her rhetoric of abandoning austerity doesn’t match the reality of cuts to frontline services. When that happens, her poll figures will dwindle, whoever is leading the opposition.

Yet yesterday’s announcement and following media coverage went exactly as May wanted. As an act of political theatre, it was perfect. Even the satirical Twitter posts replacing Theresa May with Darth Vader portrayed her as strong, maybe evil, but that’s exactly how she wants to be seen. The Conservative Party have always pushed the image that they are ruthless and tough enough to make the ‘hard decisions’ required for the national interest. Since 2010 its worked every time. We can only hope that the mask falls away.

Failing to build an economy that works for all is hardly in the national interest either. How can a party wanting to turn the nation into a tax-haven post-Brexit represent the ‘national interest’, as vague a term as that is?

Sponsored links