Sunday, 2 September 2018

Bring on the dancing girls! Just don't pity Theresa May...

Much has been made this week of Theresa May dancing awkwardly in South Africa and Kenya. There was uproarious laughter from some quarters, pity from others, cries of "sexism!" at those who laughed, others still offered patronising coos of "At least she had a go, bless her!", Alex Clark, meanwhile, wrote a piece "in praise of female awkwardness" in the Guardian

Whenever a male politician makes a berk of himself when he tried to dance in public, he is usually pilloried just as Theresa May was this week. Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson were mocked for their lame attempts at dancing in Saudi Arabia, Justin Trudeau was mostly given a leave pass by liberals but criticised by those who don't share his politics when he joined in a display of bhangra dancing, and Jeremy Corbyn caused a mass cringe among his opponents when he tried to rally the troops by showing off a few moves at a union rally Sunderland. 

Sure, they are damned if they do and damned if they don't when confronted a situation where it is considered polite or at least sporting to join a dance - and a bit rude and uptight if they try and sit it out - but we shouldn't have our giggles censored when this situation arises. There are good reasons for such images, regardless of the gender of the politician involved, being a long-time staple of Private Eye covers. 

They are all powerful and privileged men and women.   

And in the case of Theresa May, all I really saw was desperation as she danced in South Africa and Kenya, because while everyone was busy arguing over whether it was OK to laugh at her moves, nobody was really talking too much about the reality of the trade deals she was attempting to make on her whistlestop tour. 

Last year, the UK exported £2.4bn worth of goods the six southern African countries included in the deal she tried to crow about. In contrast, the UK's exports to the EU and the rest of the world combined are worth £339bn. And the six-country deal is just a replication of a deal the UK already has as part of the EU. Theresa May will need to do an awful lot of replication - and dance to an awful lot of tunes, literally and metaphorically - to come close to making up for the post-Brexit shortfall in trade we currently enjoy as part of the EU.

Let's just examine Africa, shall we? Africa's nations are moving ever-closer - there are assorted economic blocs all over the continent, such as ECOWAS, which is comprised of 15 west African states, the Arab-Maghreb Union, comprised of five North African states, the Southern African Customs Union, comprised of five states in the south of the continent, and in the east, the East African Community has customs union and common market arrangements, including provisions for free movement of labour, goods and services between six states. 

The EU has been very busy, particularly in the last three years, in making agreements to facilitate trade with these blocs. And, unlike many earlier attempts at European trade with Africa, which often took place under a grim shadow of colonialism or arrogant post-colonialism, lessons have been learnt and trade agreements that are win-wins are becoming more common. These deals involve meaningful aid for projects such as education and healthcare and investment that is aimed at creating jobs with respect to the local content laws which many African countries have passed to increase the skills of their people and reduce the reliance on expatriates. 

Critically for the global security, local content laws aim to reduce the problems created by economic migration in poorer countries, which in turn leads to economic migrants often ending up in dangerous places where either their own lives are put in danger or the risk of radicalisation increases - and contributes to the influx of refugees into Europe. It is essential for Europe to be part of the solution to this problem through investment that will create jobs that have dignity, purpose, prospects for advancement and living wages.

On top of all this, the African Union is getting ever-closer. The African Continental Free Trade Area is the result of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement between all 55 African Union members - in March this year, 44 of the 55 states signed the proposed agreement and if it is ratified, it will be the largest free trade area since the WTO was formed. It should come as no surprise to anyone who pays attention to the world that many African leaders in business and politics look to the EU as a model for free trade across a continent. If the EU ultimately does a free trade deal with the AU, the UK will be, to quote Theresa May "naked and alone" on the world stage. She may have been referring to a post-Brexit Jeremy Corbyn, and she was correct, but if her mismanagement of Brexit continues, she will be in the same position.

And if you are still feeling sorry for Theresa May because the mean people laughed at her dancing, maybe you will feel less sorry for her if you consider that she has had to form an unholy alliance with the sexist, homophobic DUP to cling to power. Or maybe you might want to think about her terrible tenure as Home Secretary, where the Windrush scandal happened on her watch. 

Or perhaps you haven't noticed her complete lack of authority as Prime Minister. She can bang on about her "Chequers deal" all she likes but it's not a deal for post-Brexit Britain. It's a pie-in-the-sky laundry list of wishes made of unicorn guano and pixie dust, a list that the EU will never agree to in its current form, a list that has angered the hard Brexiters and led remainers to shrug and ask why we're bothering to leave.

So frankly, who cares if she dances? Who cares if she doesn't dance? Who cares if her moves make her look like the arrhythmic lovechild of a praying mantis and an ironing board?

None of it will matter if a catastrophe unfolds between now and March.

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