Although she is so far enjoying significant leads in all the opinion polls, Theresa May has been the target of much adverse comment for her propensity to stay away from the public. While Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been out and about meeting real people, the grand procession of Empress Treeza has stuck rigidly to stage managed photo-ops, with carefully selected party activists, well away from the lumpen proletariat.
Someone at CCHQ must have actually heard the criticism, because today Ms May not only went on a walkabout, but then subjected herself to a Facebook Live event where she was quizzed by ITV political editor Robert Peston, not known for favouring any one party over another, but who has significant previous for having full and frank exchanges with the kinds of people the Tories like to get a little too close to (like the Murdochs).
And the result of this drive to engage with the little people has been a campaign that has progressed not necessarily to Ms May’s advantage. The walkabout, where our Prime Minister looked a little apprehensive at having to visit a town market in Abingdon, might have passed off without incident except for an encounter with a woman called Cathy, who has mild learning difficulties, but knew how to regale a politician.
“Theresa, are you going to help people with learning disabilities? I'm being serious I want you to do something for us”, she told the PM. “I've got mild learning disabilities and I haven't got a carer at the moment, and I'm angry. And I would like somebody to help me, because I can't do everything I want to do … I’m talking about everybody, not just me. I'm talking about everybody who's got mental health and learning disabilities. I want them not to have their money taken away from them and being crippled”.
And then came the damning and all too true soundbite: “The fat cats keep all the money and us lot get nothing”. She wasn’t finished: “Do you know what I want? I want my disability living allowance to come back. Not have PIPs and get nothing. I can't live on £100 a month. They just took it all away from me”. Living on £100 a month.
The Facebook Live went no better, with questions such as “I can’t vote for you until you guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK”, “How can people afford to take a year off to care for someone?”, “Don’t people deserve to see a [TV] debate?”, “A lot of people feel strongly about fox hunting. Isn’t it a throw-back to crueller days?”, “Why didn’t you go to the RCN conference?”, “Why are nurses paid so little compared to company bosses?”, and the inevitable “Food banks have increased by 7,000 since the Tories have been in power”.
Worse, Cathy’s question was there too: “Over 60% of PIP (personal independence payments) are overturned on appeal. Doesn’t that show the system is brutal?” Theresa May might have a 20% lead in the latest Guardian/ICM poll, but she is not relishing having to answer the questions of real people. Nor is she looking convincing when doing so.
Theresa May looks even less like a Prime Minister with each passing day. But, barring unexpected deliverance, she is on her way back to Downing Street. Why that might be I will leave to others to figure out.