Did you ask her, or did she ask you? Theresa May is telling the Queen what to do.
The Queen of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth Realms is not asked to do something, she asks you. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.
“I have just been to Buckingham Palace, where Her Majesty The Queen has asked me to form a new government, and I accepted.”
These are Theresa May’s words from 2016 and they are almost identical to the words spoken by David Cameron and Tony Blair, in fact, they go back at least as far as Harold Macmillan and Winston Churchill. Churchill had the dubious honour of being asked to form a government ‘immediately’.
Incoming prime ministers are asked to form a government because the administration is on behalf of her Majesty, at least in constitutional theory. The idea is that the Queen is actually in charge, and she delegates the running of the country to the government. It’s a silly farce, but it’s our silly farce.
However, come 2017 and Theresa May isn’t asked to form a government, she’s just going to go ahead and start one.
“I have just been to see Her Majesty the Queen, and I will now form a government”
The two clauses of this sentences sit apart. They are stated alongside each other to create the impression of causality, but the content doesn’t make that explicit. It appears as if it’s a coincidence that on the same day she went to see her Majesty, she also formed a government.
There’s also the performative language of ‘I will now…’. These words are an action like ‘I now declare you husband and wife’ or ‘I apologise’. Like a magical incantation, by saying that she will form a government, the government is formed. It’s noteworthy that this government forming will happen ‘now’, May adds a sense of urgency and imminence like a great magician declaring ‘I will now make her disappear’.
This is an extension of ‘strong and stable’. Ms May is reaching for the rhetorical toolbox to try to convey an otherwise unconvincing message of strength. As her real power slips away, she leans harder and harder on the appearance of power.
To tell the sovereign monarch that you will be forming a government breaches an out of date taboo, but it matters. Any prime minister is could have pulled this trick and received the appearance of power it would confer, but none have felt the need.
Theresa May owes a debt. She has more power that she’s entitled too, and it’s borrowed power being lent to her by a Conservative party scared of another election and a Labour party going through ritual purification. May attempted to earn the power but failed; now she must borrow from the Queen to try to pay for what she owes.
The problem with a power debt is it forces you to sell your assets and drive further into the problem. By telling the public that she will be forming a government, the Prime Minister made her mortgage payment by selling the car she uses to get to work. Credibility is your asset for earning your way out of debt, by selling it to make the payment you keep the bailiffs off your door but make the problem worse.
Like greedy creditors who lent too much, the Tory party won’t forgive its loans and won’t accept them defaulted. Theresa May will be made to pay monthly instalments by selling her credibility by making faux stability statements while the saboteurs plot in the background.
So watch for these cheap statements of stability. As the pressure rises in Westminster, the language of strength and power will rise like a bubble of air forced to the surface. The question is what happens when the bubble pops and the debt collectors are at the door?