Having been assured that “there will be drinking water, whatever happens on October 31st” by our next Prime Minister, it is time to pay attention to how the current one is approaching the end-of-term.
Considering her successor has not indicated there will be enough drinking water, whether it will be delivered by tap or army, or if there is a missing comma which means November 1st is more of a worry, you might expect Theresa May to display the same uncontrolled tremors as Angela Merkel. But you’d be wrong.
This is a woman who has seen the light at the end of the tunnel and no longer gives much of a toss whether it is a truck or a train, just so long as it’s not another meaningless vote that will entail having to deal with those parts of her party that other humans cannot reach.
And so she stepped off the plane in Tokyo for her final G20 summit with the same devil-may-care attitude to international diplomacy that we more often associate with those who call the French “turds” and then get the BBC to delete it.
This is a woman who 2 years ago displayed indecent haste to clutch the hand of a man who combines stupidity with fascism. She entrusted the fate of Brexit to a man who failed as a weekend warrior. And she smiled broadly on the steps of Downing Street with a Saudi princeling who has used British jets and British bombs to pound Yemen and leave 22m of that country’s citizens reliant on food aid.
The front row of the G20 family photo is a Usual Suspects-style mugshot of some of the world’s best-known despots. She managed to raise a smile for that. But asked to pose for a photo with Vladimir Putin, Mrs May adopted the same facial expression as someone asked to pick up cat poo.
All the more remarkable, considering how chuffed she managed to look when she met him in 2016.
Now, Putin has not been markedly more awful in the past 3 years. Back then, he was killing opponents, finagling democratic votes, oppressing minorities and was considered to have ordered the murders of 34 journalists whose words were a danger to his grip on power.
By that point he had also imported radioactive polonium-210 into the UK, had it administered to the defector Alexander Litvinenko, protected the two men who carried out the killing, and promoted one of them to the Duma.
His agents had been suspected of involvement in Parliamentary honeytraps and the “body-in-a-bag” murder of GCHQ boffin Gareth Williams. He had annexed the Crimea, doped his way to 41 Olympic medals , and had his military shoot down 298 holidaymakers as their jet flew over Ukraine where his soldiers were occupying a country that had voted to be more European.
We may wrinkle our noses with distaste at all that, but diplomacy requires a smile. And we HAD imposed sanctions on the little bugger.
So what’s changed since this happiest of snaps, aside from his tie?
There’s been even more sanctions. Four more journalists have been killed, apparently on Putin’s orders. And he’s followed up his WMD proliferation by using a chemical weapon in Salisbury, where the cathedral spire is really great but the perfume bottles are deadly.
He tried to kill Sergei Skripal, a British intelligence asset. This may be something many nations – and defectors – accept as a risk in the great game, but he did it in a way that was breathtakingly careless. Not only was nerve agent smeared on a door handle which could have been touched by almost anyone, it was discarded in a park where it was picked up by Dawn Sturgess.
Thinking it was perfume, she sprayed it on herself. Litvinenko died slowly, and was conscious for most of the 3 weeks in which his body broke down. Dawn died after 8 days in a coma. Both were buried in specially-sealed coffins, in case the poisons that killed them leaked.
Yesterday Putin said it was “a fuss about spies” and “traitors must be punished”.
Dawn was not a spy. She was not a traitor. She was a mother, a daughter, and a partner.
Other things have happened, too. Russia is now all but broke, after a recession and economic stagnation brought about by sanctions. The country is now considered by experts to no longer be a democracy, and it is believed that Putin is the world’s richest man, outstripping even the combined wealth of Bill Gates AND Jeff Bezos.
The aircraft carrier he threateningly steamed through the English Channel was so old and decrepit it could be defeated by a Nerf gun. His Red Square military parades show off prototypes of tanks and missiles he cannot afford to build, and his vast armed forces mostly consist of conscripts who have no idea what they’re doing. He spends what little money he has on gold toilets.
And now Putin and May both know she’s off, and he’s not. His term ends in 2024, and her time’s up in less than a month. She can demand action, and the surrender of murder suspects, all she likes. He probably sat there and picked his nose and wondered which female on his payroll would be most likely to get Novichok on Boris’ knob.
The only weapons Putin has left are poisonous thoughts, and computer keyboards. And May has seen the evidence that he used them to manipulate the Brexit vote.
May is not a woman to exhibit much in the way of principle or decency. She can see 74 dead bodies pulled out of a burned tower block and NOT order every other tower block to be made safe. She can draw red lines that later turn out to be imaginary, send Go Home vans around diverse cities, and create an environment so hostile that British citizens are deported on her watch. She sees no need to apologise for any of it.
She is not making her distaste clear because she knows she is shaking the hand of an indiscriminate, power-crazed killer who would still be cackling even as James Bond wound his entrails out of him with a stick. She is not grimacing because she has to be nice to a tyrant, or because his proxies manipulated the British democratic process in the hope, if not the act, of arranging an outcome that would damage and destabilise every Western democracy he loathes.
She doesn’t give a toss about fake news, troll factories, the US election, Hillary Clinton’s leaked emails, treating Julian Assange as a useful idiot, or those British citizens suspected to be the victims or patsies of Putin, his cronies or his desperate need to launder his billions in foreign states before he is kicked out of his own.
She is upset for one of two reasons. Either he is single-handedly responsible for the nightmare of Brexit which overshadowed her short, painful and utterly fruitless premiership, or he knows who leaked that Windrush report.