First of all, apologies for being quiet for a while. Moving house takes a lot of time and attention, and with the best intentions I failed to keep up with any form of my ‘online life’.
On Monday, Home Secretary Theresa May made a Commons statement on the finally-realised deportation of ‘hate preacher’ Abu Qatada to Jordan. Whatever your opinions on the issues, there was a comment from May that spoke volumes about the Tory worldview.
Speaking about the lengthy legal process to move Qatada out of the UK (though in the end he only left because he ‘agreed’ to), Ms May said,
We did not ignore court judgements we did not like. We did not act outside of the law. We did what was right. And for a civilised nation, that is something of which we should be immensely proud.
I wonder whether that final sentence strikes you as it does me. “We kept the law – and for a civilised nation that is something of which we should be immensely proud”. Not even just ‘proud’, but ‘immensely.
The thing is, a civilised nation shouldn’t be ‘proud’ to keep the law, let alone immensely proud. It’s a basic qualification to be considered a civilised nation in the first place. It’s the equivalent of passing potty training. It’s ok for a 2- or 3-year-old to be proud of not wearing a nappy – but if a grown man or woman was proud of it, you’d consider there was some kind of problem, whether medical or, more likely, psychological.
I’m not proud that I can tie my own shoelaces. There would be something wrong with me if I couldn’t.
I’m not proud that I can brush my teeth. That’s a minimum expectation for a grown, fit human being.
I’m not proud that I can use a computer – some people can’t, but it’s basically just what everyone does these days.
I’m not even proud of less universal things, like being able to drive. They’re just part of my minimum expectation of myself.
Yet Ms May, and presumably her Tory colleagues on the front bench, are ‘immensely proud that they kept the law – something which we’re all expected to do, and expect consequences if we don’t.
There was a similar incident during the London mayoral contest last year, when Boris Johnson said that he was proud to pay his taxes, as if it were something optional that he was choosing to do anyway. It isn’t, of course – or at least, not for us ‘little people’. But for a certain stratum of society, that’s exactly how they see it. The rules are different for them – at least in their worldview.
That Ms May is ‘immensely proud’ that her government that her government respected the rule of law speaks volumes – immense volumes – about the worldview of Tory frontbenchers: how they see themselves, and the law, and us. For us, keeping the law is obligatory, and failures to do so are punishable – and to the Tory mindset must be punished severely. For them, it’s a ‘nice to have’, something to do if you feel like it and then pat yourself on the back about afterward.
It’s possible you think I’m making too much of a single phrase. But my observation has already been borne out in practice. Ms May’s elaboration of her ‘pride’ included:
We did not ignore court judgements we did not like. We did not act outside of the law.
This is not something hypothetical or hyperbolic. When the court ruling on the ‘Poundland geologist’ case earlier this year, that’s exactly what the government did. Deciding that it didn’t like the court’s judgment, it broke centuries of legal precedent to retrospectively change the law, making its illegal actions legal after the fact – depriving millions of poor people of their right to claim back payments of money that they should never have been deprived of in the first place.
This government operates on a distasteful mix of self-righteousness and appealing to the base instincts of the ignorant, acting and speaking as though any reasonable person could only possibly agree with their decisions and policies.
But scratch beneath the surface just a nanometre and the ugly, arrogant truth shows through. In many cases, you don’t even have to scratch; the truth will out, as they say, and in the oddest ways and phrases these detached and privileged politicians will let slip their real nature and intent.