General Election 2017

‘Strong and Stable’: The rhetoric of deceit

Violet columnist Martha O’Neil examines the confusion belying Theresa May’s political mantra

Martha O'Neil

Do the Conservatives offer strong and stable leadership?FLICKR

I don’t think I’ve had a conversation this week without slipping in that sickly soundbite.

“Would you like a slice of strong and stable cake with your tea?”

“You look really strong and stable today.”

“Thank you, supervisor – I too thought this piece of work was strong and stable.”

“I know I look like a real mess with this mascara dripping down my face, but honestly that mock exam was really strong and stable.”

But what does this so-called ‘strong and stable’ Britain look like today? Let’s have a look, shall we?

The NHS in crisis; working people relying on foodbanks; benefit cuts to the disabled, poor, and vulnerable; trade deals with oppressive regimes; Brexit; the potential threat of a Disunited Kingdom; millions of children growing up in poverty (even in working families); reduced tax credits dictating how many children you ‘should’ have; a housing shortage; student debts that will never be paid off and the pound in your pocket worth less with every year. Oh and those darn saboteurs just keep on getting in the way.

“Strong and stable,” they say.

“Yeah, whatever,” I reply.

“Unpick those clever catchphrases and what lies beneath are weasel words… the illusion of the Britain that the Tories want us to see”

To claim that Theresa May’s leadership, the government, that the Tories themselves are ‘strong and stable’ is not only inaccurate, but disconnected from the reality of those targeted by Conservative policy. Those who are made weak have lives which are nothing but ‘stable’. They claim to be the party of the working people, they advocate rewarding those who are industrious and resourceful, to give back to those ‘hard-workers’ who aspire to get on in life. Well, we all aspire to get on in life – but what is there to inspire us when those in charge seem incapable of comprehending the social realities in which people live?

Working families are living in poverty, relying on charities and food banks, with parents having to choose between putting food on the table, buying their children’s shoes or paying the rent. Nurses, our NHS nurses, are relying on foodbanks. And the Tories have the audacity to claim they are ‘strong and stable’? Are they living under a rock?

In March, the Independent revealed that there had been a 100% rise in ‘hate-crime’ in England and Wales following last year’s EU Referendum. Yet, Theresa May speaks of Britain’s unity, togetherness, as if the wounds of Brexit are not still bloody and raw. There were 14,295 reported hate offences committed last year (motivated either by race or religion). Yet, not a year after the referendum May claims that those in charge, including herself, are ‘strong and stable’. Try telling that to the hijabi Birmingham teacher whose pupils nicknamed her ‘ISIS’, and other victims of racist abuse in schools where hate crimes have almost doubled since the 23rd of June. The charity ‘Tell MAMA’ sees a direct correlation between the use of inflammatory anti-immigration and anti-Muslim rhetoric and the number of offences taking place. Where is the ‘strong and stable’ programme to tackle this?

Unpick those clever catchphrases and what lies beneath are weasel words. Rhetoric which helps construct the illusion of the Britain that the Tories want us to see. I wish I could see a strong and stable nation, where poverty did not exist, hate crimes did not take place, where equality and social justice were not just expressions of hope but tangible realities. But in a world of austerity and the working-poor, we are far from ‘strong and stable’.

In the words of Plato, rhetoric “is the art of ruling the minds of men”, and in theory, maybe this is what makes Theresa May so ‘strong and stable’ – her ability to fool. But she’s not fooling everyone, certainly not those who feel the brunt of her party’s reign.

Strong and stable? Don’t make me laugh