Theresa May has suddenly started to make out that the party she leads is one that "governs for all"; it's the Tories' latest PR wheeze, and will probably replace [insert your own failed Tory soundbite here] in the eyes of the right. And she cites this 'fact' as the reason they edged out Labour in Copeland. They are no longer the 'nasty party', a phrase she coined about her fellow Conservatives when Blair was turning Labour bluer than blue. (She has since referred to Labour in exactly those terms; whatever her abilities, originality isn't one of them.) So has the Conservative Party managed the astonishing transition from big, bad something-of-the-night monsters, to fun-loving, all-encompassing daddy bears who want to cuddle us and tell us everything is going to be just fine? In short, no.
May wants to be all things to everyone: a One-Nation Tory, a post-neoliberalist, a communitarian; the trouble is she has a lot of bad form to overcome if she's ever to come across as remotely convincing on the matter. And this is the problem, because she might think she's taken a step forward but a very quick look at the record of her government - and the one before it - shows that nastiness is as innate to the Tories as wearing tweed jackets are to brown noser in-chief Nigel Farage.
May's appeal is directly to Labour voters. "You've been abandoned by the party you once loved. Come and join us." It's a very tempting offer, Theresa, but I think 99% of the people you're trying to reach would sooner eat broken glass. Here's why. May talks about creating a society for everyone, and not just the few' and yet almost immediately Corbyn is able to call her out for government's decision to very sneakily change the rules on disability benefits (giving the Labour leader the opportunity to throw 'the nasty party' back in her direction). George Freeman, a Tory MP, had referred to people with mental health problems as not really being in need of benefit payments. Of course, May sought the damage limitation route, but we know the hate, the nastiness, is there.
The day before this happened, Shrove Tuesday, May invited various Christian leaders along to a get-together at No.10. This cosy little affair is reminder that at certain times of the year, those of a religious faith will always get preferential treatment. And not only then, because there's thousands of faith schools within the state system, clerics sit in parliament, some MP's are church commissioners, and religious groups enjoy exemptions from various laws, such an unfair dismissal and anti-discrimination legislation. You won't see non-religious groups being invited to Downing Street, and nor will they ever be allowed access to state schools. The Tories have even appointed a minister for faith in the past (it was quietly scrapped in 2015).
Britain's Brexit woes continue daily, and the latest wheeze from May is to turn the UK into a cut-price tax haven. Apart from the utter absurdity of this idea, the Tory obsession with low taxes is an interesting one, given that stealth taxes are everywhere now, just as long as income tax isn't touched. But we know that chancellor Hammond is going to announce as much doom as Gideon ever could, given the OBR statements in November 2016 about the nation's finances. And so, thanks to Gideon and Cameron borrowing is going to be £122bn. Now Hammond is able to see through (just like everyone else) the idea that Gideon ever had a Long Term Economic Plan, and instead austerity has been dropped. But now, thanks to Brexit, there's a massive black hole in the nation's finances. Apparently it wasn't there before. Who's going to pay for that? I think you can guess, and it won't be Tory mates in the City. And then there's the 500,000 job losses as the result of Brexit...
Strivers versus skivers was the favourite soundbite of the Osborne years, and was reflected in his love affair with austerity, even if it was an utter failure that led to yet more misery for those at the bottom of the ladder. But the fact remains that the Tories love an easy target, and therefore they've made cutting the benefits bill one of their top priorities. This is why thousands of people every year get sanctioned or prosecuted for late attendance or fraudulent claims; yet as far as pursuing tax cheats, you'll find it's a very different story. So much so that the Tories have cut the amount of people who investigate tax evasion.
So how nasty will May's government get? The signs clearly aren't good. She claims to admire Clement Atlee, but where she might see herself as a unifier in the Atlee mould, most of us find this ludicrous and instead see another Margaret Thatcher in the making: authoritarian and nothing other than divisive. May might try and make out that she's committed to social and national cohesion (she wants Scotland to stay in the union), that she wants to promote community, but her actions are beginning to tell a very different story. Her scramble to befriend and appease Donald Trump, for example, was frankly beyond embarrassing; it was humiliating. May seems to think that Brexit was some sort of call for change, and so she behaves like every other Tory leader there's ever been. Her chancellor's inheritance tax plans looks to embed further the assets of the wealthy. So when she talks about putting Britain's interests first you can guarantee that this doesn't mean yours.
Max Webster is the Editor of Political Provocateur