As Theresa May Becomes Prime Minister, A Look Back at Her Authoritarianism, Islamophobia and Harshness on Immigration

14.7.16

Theresa May, Britain's new Prime Minister, making her first speech as PM. I slightly edited the banner behind her.First off, it says little for democracy that, after the biggest constitutional crisis in most of our lifetimes (the result of the EU referendum, which may take years to resolve), the Conservative Party has responded by having just 199 MPs anoint a new leader to run the country after David Cameron, aging 20 years overnight, bumbled off into the sunset of a poisoned legacy.

Cameron, it is assumed, will forever be known as the worst Prime Minister since Neville Chamberlain (or Anthony Eden), a so-called leader who, because he was too cowardly to face down critics who were even more right-wing than him — in his own party, and in UKIP — called a referendum that he was then too arrogant to believe he could lose. I was fearful at the time Cameron announced the referendum, in January 2013, that it could all go horribly wrong, and on the morning of June 24 my fears were confirmed as 17 million voters — a weird mix of political vandals, racists, xenophobes, left-wing idealists and the ill-informed — voted for us to leave the EU.

Cameron left his mess for others to clear up, and within days most of those who had run with his idiocy and had campaigned to get us out of Europe fell too. Nigel Farage announced that he was standing down as UKIP leader, hopefully doing us all a favour by, as a result, diminishing UKIP’s weird reptilian personality cult.

Boris Johnson was next, the Tories’ main cheerleader for Brexit, who was shunned in his leadership hopes by his own party. Astonishingly, he seemed to have crossed a line, being too obviously self-serving and untrustworthy in a field where those two attributes are generally found to be perfectly acceptable. What tainted him forever, I believe, was the revelation that he didn’t actually believe Britain should leave the EU, and only campaigned for it to position himself for a leadership gambit further down the line.

Johnson’s deputy, the peculiar Michael Gove, who had ended up stabbing him in the back after the referendum, was the next casualty, booted out of the leadership contest, and then the brief Brexit challenger to the Tory throne, Andrea Leadsom, was pressurised to withdraw, leaving Theresa May, the home secretary, as the unchallenged new leader, anointed by just 199 people, the 199 Tory MPs who had backed her leadership bid.

Theresa May makes cooing one nation unity noises, and appears to be a decent enough person in that English, Christian-from-the-shires Tory manner that, unfortunately, is generally rather dull and intolerant in reality. As Home Secretary, for an astonishing six years in a job that turns everyone who touches it into an authoritarian nightmare, she was indeed an authoritarian nightmare, and worryingly Islamophobic.

On counter-terrorism, Theresa May became obsessive about sending the cleric Abu Qatada back to Jordan, even though doing so was a breach of the UK’s obligations, under the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Convention on Torture, not to send any foreign national back to a country where they faced the risk of torture. I wrote about the case in April 2012, in an article entitled, If Abu Qatada is Guilty of Crimes, Why Not Prosecute Him in the UK?, and again in September 2014, in Abu Qatada’s Release in Jordan Discredits Tory Hysteria About the Need to Dismiss Human Rights Law.

Theresa May was also horribly enthusiastic about extraditing five men to the US on terrorism charges, including Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan, who were both accused of running a website that promoted violent jihad, and who were both, eventually, released back to the UK. She ended up bragging inappropriately about the men’s extradition at the Conservative Party Conference in October 2012, and also made a point of stopping the extradition of Gary McKinnon, a white man with Asperger’s, while celebrating the extradition of Talha Ahsan, a Muslim with Asperger’s. In an article for Al-Jazeera in July 2014, I noted:

In July 2004 and December 2006, the Crown Prosecution Service declared that there was “insufficient evidence” to charge Ahmad with any criminal offence under UK law, as did Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, in September 2006, and yet neither the Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, nor the current Tory-led coalition government, took any interest. Instead, Theresa May, the current home secretary, drew understandable accusations of racism when, having gloated about the successful extradition of Ahmad, Ahsan and three other men in the opening words of her speech at the Conservative Party Conference in October 2012, she then refused to extradite Gary McKinnon, a hacker who also has Asperger’s Syndrome, the week after.

Perhaps most alarmingly, Theresa May also became obsessed with extra-judicially stripping foreign-born British citizens accused of involvement with terrorism of their citizenship, even if it leaves them stateless, as I discussed in March 2014, when I also posted a transcript of a parliamentary debate about the proposals. I followed up in May 2014 with another article, MPs Support Alarming Citizenship-Stripping Measures Introduced by Theresa May, and I still find the main charges against Theresa May, which I wrote about in my March 2014 article, profoundly shocking:

The Bureau [of Investigative Journalism] has established that 41 individuals have been stripped of their British nationality since 2002, and that 37 of these cases have taken place under Theresa May, since the Tory-led coalition government was formed in May 2010, with 27 of these cases being on the grounds that their presence in the UK is “not conducive to the public good.” In December, the Bureau confirmed that, in 2013, Theresa May “removed the citizenship of 20 individuals — more than in every other year of the Coalition government put together.” As the Bureau suggested in February 2013, it appears that, in two cases, the stripping of UK citizenship led to the men in question subsequently being killed by US drone attacks.

Last May, when the Tories managed to win a General Election outright — revealing only how broken our first-past-the-post voting system truly is — I was furious about her enthusiasm for Britain renouncing its human right obligations, which I wrote about in an article entitled, What Does It Say About the Tories That They Want to Scrap Human Rights Legislation? May has recently signalled that she will no longer be seeking to withdraw from our human right obligations, which would require us to withdraw from the Council of Europe, not the EU, but I can see no reason why she should be trusted.

Theresa May also has a harsh track record on accepting refugees. Last September, after the photo of three-year old Ayman Kurdi, drowned on a beach, went viral and generated huge sympathy for the plight of refugees, I noted her hardline approach:

I was already appalled by my government’s disdain for the huge number of refugees leaving Africa and the Middle East — many from countries we have helped to destabilise (Syria and Libya, for example). In May, for example, as the death toll in the Mediterranean reached 1,800 this year, Theresa May, the home secretary, was refusing calls for an EU quota for refugees, and disagreeing with a suggestion by the EU’s High Representative, Federica Mogherini, that “no migrants” intercepted at sea should be “sent back against their will.” The BBC reported that she said, “Such an approach would only act as an increased pull factor across the Mediterranean and encourage more people to put their lives at risk.”

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “many of the people coming across the central Mediterranean were not refugees, but economic migrants from places such as Nigeria, Eritrea and Somalia” — an appalling and unfair generalisation, when Eritrea currently has the worst human rights record in the world, and Somalia is a country ravaged by war.

May is also to blame for other horrible draconian gestures — the “go home” vans that she sent around the streets of London, and, with much more impact, her refusal to grant visas to the foreign spouses of UK nationals if the latter do not earn £18,600 a year, which, it should be noted, is more than the national median income for the UK, and roughly the same as the median income in London. I have friends who have been affected by this, and am shocked and appalled that this arbitrary decision that love can only cross national boundaries with a price tag has been allowed to stand, tearing apart tens of thousands of blameless families and causing untold damage to the children affected.

Theresa May also has a track record of being obsessed with snooping and surveillance, and, after the EU referendum, failed to reassure EU nationals living in the UK that they would be able to stay in the country. She soon changed her tune, but I imagine that shameful refusal to support foreign-born workers will continue to haunt those who are persistently feeling alienated since the result was announced.

In a second article to follow soon I’ll examine Theresa May’s new cabinet, which, astonishingly, included the return of Boris Johnson — as foreign secretary! — just 13 days after he ruled himself out of the Tory leadership election. For now, however, I hope this brief re-cap of Theresa May’s history as home secretary will provide something of an antidote to those regarding her as safe pair of hands and allowing misty notions of unity to overshadow the truth of her six years as a dangerous and divisive authoritarian.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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63 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    The truth is very difficult to read right now, Damo. It feels like we may have reached the very top of the highest point on the rollercoaster before the referendum, and now we’re falling, but after initial interest no one wants to discuss how quickly we’re falling, because no one can bear thinking about any one topic for longer than a couple of days at the most.
    I’m now starting to see more mention of “moving on,” in general, so we’ll all need to be very alert, because, of course, nothing has been decided yet about how exactly we leave the EU and to what extent, and this, in turn, is because, as we need to remember, THERE WASN’T A PLAN! Yes, the Leave campaigners didn’t even have a back of a fag packet plan.
    Interesting commentary is also becoming scarce, but I thought this was promising in the Observer – Brexit: EU considers migration ‘emergency brake’ for UK for up to seven years: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/24/brexit-deal-free-movement-exemption-seven-years

  2. damo says...

    Moveing on were,we have nowere to move onto you know wot if i was the european union id tell this country to f..k off and kick it away sumo it out of the eu …its crazed cameron and co caused this mess …no they want to hold back from leaveing this crazed referendum should never have happened in the first place ….the tories are like the philip green of politics….shysters and conmen and wots so sad is people cannot see the abyss thats opening up there STILL Screaming its the immagrants there takeing our benefits .

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, we are now definitively in the post-reality phase of our decline, Damo. The Tories are 16 points ahead of Labour, because of the Labour coup and the Theresa May bounce – lifelong Labour voters apparently saying how they find her a safe pair of hands etc. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3708400/Patriotism-isn-t-Jeremy-Corbyn-s-makeup-leadership-rival-Owen-Smith-claims-Labour-s-civil-war-heads-COURT.html
    And while we’re crying out for some depth, our culture – or what passes for it – continues to be vacuous and self-absorbed to an unparalleled degree. I can only wonder if these people can survive if life throws anything difficult at them, as we seem to be close to the endgame. I was flicking through the channels after watching C4 News tonight, and everything was unremittingly banal as usual – Coach Trip: Road to Ibiza, for example. How is it that we’re still alive? https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2016/jul/26/coach-trip-road-to-ibiza-review-wish-you-werent-here

  4. damo says...

    There seems to be a nihilism, a creeping darkness sweeping the world it feels like were entering an era of horror ….jesus andy i wish we had something wonderfull to talk about….world peace declared ,enviromental damage reversed ….imagine…….but the world seems to be burning up right now every one i know seems to want to run and hide, culture seems to be dying…..what can we do ????

  5. damo says...

    Thease shows feature the usual boreing narcacists i couldnt think of watching anything more boreing

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    We need to find new ways to get together, Damo – those of us who are conscious. We’re all too atomised. But we need to do something, and to find ways to celebrate what we should be celebrating about life and love and creativity, because you’re right that there’s a nihilism advancing – to my mind in the relentless self-absorption and infantilisation of modern life.
    I think you’re right about culture – there’s a permanent tsunami of the inane, even in what purports to be intellectual circles.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, there is nothing more boring, Damo. I can’t watch for more than a few seconds …
    Lives of such all-compassing pointlessness. I don’t mean to be harsh, but the all-encompassing irrelevance of these kinds of reality TV cannon fodder is staggering.

  8. damo says...

    A reality show about a reality show about a reality show about a reality show…..lol again its the great distracting ,the great dumbing down ….you know wot i saw yesturday ….adults fully grown adults rushing around the streets smart phones in hand looking for pokemon monsters on there phones ….this was about 11 at night ….this is the great distraction at work while the world burns ….you can run around looking for imaginary monsters….domt worry there allready here

  9. damo says...

    Lol the people on those reality shows are the emptyest people ….the first big brother in 2000 was interesting ….its been utterly dull ever scince ….dull narccasistic vain pin headed empty…..desperate….people with nothing in there lives exept a desperation to be…..hot….sexy….and become rich and famouse …the reality is there exploited edited to be shown at there worst ,they usualy end up being used and abused and becomeing a grotesque laughing stock ….which is wot the public wont ,theres a spitfullness and meanspiritedness to the british we love to see people fail…..and how sad is that…..but thats the reality of reality shows

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    The Pokemon thing is insane, isn’t it, Damo? One of many possible signifiers that we’re in the end days, along with the ever more debased reality TV world and the celebrity culture led by Kim Kardashian. I’m joking about the end days, but I wonder if I am really. Can these orange-skinned airheads survive real life if their artificial world comes tumbling down?
    It now seems such a long time ago since the first reality show, Big Brother, which was interesting, as you note, but once it had been done for the very first time the surprise was over, and every tired repeat of that first year could only be an empty performance. I couldn’t even bear to watch it for a minute now, but I’m pretty sure that it has become a parade of grotesque, inadequate wannabes – reflecting the wider world, in which a culture of self-obsession has led to the endless individual celebration of stunning mediocrity, and the media goes along with it.

  11. damo says...

    The end days lets hope not but things are real f..ked up right now maddness watching a documentary on the protests of the 60s and 70s they were time that were filled with greatness and horror……those people then seem light years ahead of people now yet they had none of our technoligy

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    I was flicking through channels the other night, Damo, and I caught a glimpse of this programme about rich people on Instagram, and it was this ridiculous Californian with orange skin and a little dog, and just for a moment, as happens often nowadays, I thought of the fall of Rome, and wondered how quickly these people would fall to a “barbarian” invasion. It feels as though the total dominance of consumerism – aided by technology – is hollowing us out, making us two-dimensional people with no real strength or presence.

  13. YES! Judges Tell Lawless Tory Government That UK Cannot Leave EU Without Parliamentary Approval | SRI LANKA says...

    […] Theresa May, whose dangerous authoritarianism and racism I have written about previously — see As Theresa May Becomes Prime Minister, A Look Back at Her Authoritarianism,  Islamophobia and Harshness on Immigration I could go on, but I think I’ve established well […]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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