Euan McColm: Don’t waste pity on the worst of a bad bunch

Theresa May has cut a sorry figure on the international stage as well as at home. Picture: John Thys/Getty
Theresa May has cut a sorry figure on the international stage as well as at home. Picture: John Thys/Getty
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Truly, it’s a Christmas miracle. Let us all give thanks. As the year draws to a close and the wind rattles the window frames, let’s all warm ourselves around the great news that Britain is to get its blue passports back.

My venerable colleague Dani Garavelli shares more thoughts on this issue today, so suffice it to say that I cannot wait for the day when, after three decades of the abject humiliation of carrying maroon passports, we can all stride confidently towards any European customs officer, brandishing the navy blue passport of freedom. And, while we stand there, like fools, in the non-EU queue, watching French and German and Spanish people zip past us, we can gaze upon our blue passports and know that Brexit truly was worth it.

It occurred to me that there’s something rather humiliating about living in a country where the government considers this some kind of victory.

But the pitiful spin makes a rather fitting conclusion to the political year. After 12 months of weak Government, weak opposition, and rancorous division over Brexit, this nonsense feels symbolic of where we are as a nation: when one belongs to a tribe, the colour of the banner under which one marches matters.

In a year of political bad years, Prime Minister Theresa May’s was the worst. Having already been swept to Downing Street on a wave of not being Andrea Leadsom, her reputation as a safe pair of hands began to fall apart when she called a snap general election in June with the declared intention of building on the majority her predecessor, David Cameron, secured in 2015.

A catastrophic Tory campaign, during which May was only rarely spotted in public, had as a central plank a policy to charge older (and therefore more likely to be Conservative) voters more for care in their twilight years.

If there was a market for manuals on how not to run an election campaign, May could top the bestseller list for months.

At times her leadership was so poor that one’s contempt risked turning into pure pity.

Since her humiliation at the polls, the Prime Minister’s time has been marked by a series of further humiliations. If members of her own cabinet weren’t briefing that she was useless and would soon be gone, European leaders were making it clear that she and her ludicrous Brexit Secretary, David Davis, have no cards to play in negotiations with the EU. May began her premiership by mimicking Margaret Thatcher and putting it about that she was as tough as they come. Now she resembles a hostage, held against her will by the Brexiteers in her cabinet.

But let’s not while away this Christmas Eve concentrating on the flaws of the Prime Minister, not when there are others who are equally deserving of our disdain.

Former politician Alex Salmond, having been given time by the electorate to spend with his ego, re-emerged this year first as the host of a live chat show at the Edinburgh Fringe and then as a presenter on the state-funded Russian propaganda channel, RT.

Salmond was outraged at the suggestion he was, at best, a stooge and demanded that we judge his programme on its content. And then he took the Kremlin coin for a programme during which he attacked the UK Government.

Salmond was once Nicola Sturgeon’s mentor; now he is the permanent pain in her neck, a constant source of embarrassment whose insatiable thirst for the limelight means he is always there, threatening to overshadow her.

The First Minister has frequently defended the actions of her predecessor, perhaps most excruciatingly when she appeared on TV after Salmond told a joke about his inability to make various women – the First Minister included – “come”, to explain that he was definitely not a sexist. Sturgeon’s defence, then, ranked as almost convincing. She made no such effort when it came to Salmond’s RT gig. In what must have been quite the catharsis, Sturgeon let it be known that she thought her former boss had made a mistake of the foolish variety.

If the SNP’s big problem in 2017 was a former leader, the Labour Party’s woes continued to be the fault of its current one.

Enthusiastic supporters of Jeremy Corbyn seem to be increasingly convinced that he will be prime minister within a year. The theory goes that the Government will collapse over Brexit, forcing a general election that Corbyn will win.

How exactly this scenario might pan out is not clear. What’s important to Corbynistas is that they believe it. Details are for the birds.

Corbyn’s chances of this governmental collapse would be greatly improved if he showed the slightest inclination to pick the necessary political fight over Brexit. The leader of the opposition, a career-long Eurosceptic, has already shown all of his cards on the issue: Labour supports the result of the referendum and Brexit must proceed.

Corbyn’s failure to challenge the Government over the negative impact of the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union has been woeful.

Like a cat staring at a toaster, Corbyn seems fascinated by politics even if he doesn’t understand it.

While Corbyn underperformed at Westminster, Labour’s new leader in Scotland did so at Holyrood.

Richard Leonard, elected to replace Kezia Dugdale of ITV’s I’m a Celebrity…, slipped into his new role almost unnoticed.

In a Holyrood chamber dominated by Sturgeon and Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, Leonard has struggled so far to make much of an impression. As a credible candidate to become first minister he looks like a perfectly adequate regional manager for a chain of garden centres.

The past year has exposed the current generation of political leaders as curiously inept. If we’re the slightest cheered by the idea of blue passports, we deserve the fools now leading us.

Merry Christmas, one and all (except for the passport people).