From Margret to May: The state and public mistrust

With growing adversities from natural disasters of Camden Lock Market and Grenfell Tower fire the likes of which has not been seen before, to acts of terrorism in the streets of Manchester and London, to the barbaric acid attacks, the British leadership has a task at hand dealing with public unease. With incidents unfolding one after another, finger is pointed at the woman at the top – Theresa May.

May is aware of her power as a female political symbol as well as a leader who has constantly expelled the ghost of Margaret Thatcher not only through her policy direction but by refusing to be seen as a woman but rather a politician.

She is indeed the epitome of a politician who has gone beyond the architype of conventional female leaders. Her call for election this summer was a testimony that she wants to earn her leadership status by the majority of the public vote.

If today Britain’s troubled time is a reminder of Maggie’s bleak early 1980s of inflation, public cuts, unemployment, strikes, and violence in the British street, parallels should be drawn between the two eras rather than between the two women.

Maggie (A.K.A. The Iron Lady) was the first woman to have held the office, and wanted to leave her political female legacy in a way or another even if that was at the expense of the British people.

While May came to the office to patch deep political cracks, including the resignation of Cameron, the divisive referendum campaign , the Brexit, and the economic uncertainty. It was not about female empowerment, but it was rather pure politics for her. But yet, comparison are still made between the two women and going the extra length by orchestrating polling data on pair which shows similar ratings on honesty, narrowmindedness and being 'out of touch'.

However, we do not see a similar public keenness for a parallel to be drawn between Blair and Gordon Brown or David Cameron. The reign of David Cameron was full of political flicks and flaws; he was the man whose referendum took the UK out of years of marriage to the European Union.

And through his time, we witness a series of brutal murders of Western hostages, one following the other in a horrific beheading carried by the terrorist group, ISIS. The British public wrestled with the crust of disappointment through his time, as the man who lost control of his party and then the country failed to deliver what he promised the nation with.

Are women in power still judged by their gender or their capabilities? With no sweeping changes made to how female leaders are perceived and trusted by the public, milestones in women’s rights in the political sphere will not be made at an unprecedented rate

Dr. Halla Diyab

Irrational era

The predecessor’s Labour era was disastrous shrouded with irrational decision to invade Iraq in 2003, which dragged the Middle East into endless military upheavals, and the British economy was the loser in Blair’s political equation. And yet, Cameron did not learn the lesson, and his ill-conceived Libya war with no post-war plans left the country in more turmoil than ever.

So the political era of Blair and Cameron was not by any means disasters free. But today powerful presence of social media, and the public fever of documenting daily details feeds a growing public tendency to distrust the state in a modern sensation format firmly planning the public image of the leader at the forefront of the public perception.

The public gradually finds it difficult to perpetuate the tone of loyalty, and acceptance in contemporary streams of politics. But it seems that the subsequent smidgens of unease are now accompanied by a growing mistrust-mongering toward the state.

With the public focus has gradually moved from the context of the adversities to the individuals behind the state’s leadership marking an evolution that has enforced the ripples of distrust to run wider throughout the public, and presaged the leader who symbolizes the state’s power as a target of the public anger catapulted towards everything happens under their leadership.

Living in the age of public online-exhibitionism, with digital media developing into a mass-tool for broadcasting information, exercising freedom of speech and offering a safe harbor for civic engagement, and even shaping and defining the features of leadership, public platforms revolutionize the conventional relationship between the public and the head of the state.

Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have hugely been responsible for hosting diverse subjective discourse that shapes public opinions about political leadership, and so political landscapes are daily negotiated at the global level.

The people’s harbor

This breaking down of how the state and media report political information nourish the public tendency to voice their opinions about leadership, and how much of responsibility and accountability it has towards all the catastrophes in the country. So it is accepted to publicly mock and attack May on social media and even to be asked to step down in the light of Grenfell disaster because the virtual space has become the people’s harbor.

It is a kind of online-subculture, perhaps inspired by the so-called Arab Spring and the fever of public distrust in the head of the state triggered by virtual protest-mongering. The recent series of protests witnessed in the streets of London visualize that the Brits are no exception when it come to the public distrust in the state.

The motives might differ but the format of public unease is identical which reflects that there is certainly a gulf of understanding between the British public and the state. This rising public mistrust-mongering questions to what length can the public loath the leader for all political adversities, and where is the dividing line between politicalizing the individuals leading the state, and the individualization to the politicians of the state?

Margret and May – despite their political flaws – have made strides toward global equality in the political landscape. Spurred on by the two women’s resilience to triumph against political adversity, should do them justice. And I think that’s something May’s got from Maggie. The constant parallel between the two women brings to question how far we have departed from sexism when it comes to women in politics.

Are women in power still judged by their gender or their capabilities? With no sweeping changes made to how female leaders are perceived and trusted by the public, milestones in women’s rights in the political sphere will not be made at an unprecedented rate.
Dr. Halla Diyab is an award winning screen-writer, producer, broadcaster, a published author and an activist. She has a Ph.D. in English and American Studies from the University of Leicester. She carried out research in New Orleans, USA while working on her thesis “The Examination of Marginality and Minorities in the Drama and Film of Tennessee Wil-liams”. She holds an MA in Gender and Women Studies from the University of Warwick. She can be found on Twitter: @drhalladiyab.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:54 - GMT 06:54
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