How she deals with Europe will undeniably define Theresa May’s prime ministership. Appraisal might also hang upon how Europe will deal with her. Britain’s European relationship has tested all of our recent leaders; party politically, it is no longer a game changer for Conservatives alone. But there is something else here to take into account.
Full details are yet to emerge about yesterday evening’s attack in Munich, and about our government’s response. Last night, Boris Johnson said, “We stand ready to assist our friends in Germany.” And May, of course, had been in Berlin just two days before.
Now, it would be easy to claim — as we usually do — that atrocities like this remind us of the truly important things: that we spend too much time focusing on party political debate, polls and statistics, dry policy suggestions, and the esoteric workings of Westminster. But all of those are inextricably tied to incidences such as yesterday’s. Our state’s representatives and institutions are entrusted with the difficult job of protecting us. And if the threat of this kind of attack continues to grow — regardless of the identity and intention of the perpetrators of each instance — all manner of new questions will arise for Britain, and for the wider European and global community.
Modernity’s moving parameters are not only pointed up by our changing attitudes, but by the changing attitudes of others, too — including those who wish us ill. Terrorism is nothing new, but our old everyday presumptions about our enemies continue to be countered: expectations about who they might be or represent (and that we might be able to know and understand those facts), and how we should expect them to behave, including conjecture that they might — in spite of their actions — inherently still hold some respect for life. If not respect for our lives, then for theirs, or for the lives of those around them, or of the most vulnerable in society — not least children, who it seems may have been targeted yesterday.
The recent dominant Western view has been to celebrate unconditionally all forms of unification, movement and migration, and a developing plurality of values and views. We have assumed that the promotion of those ideals combines to form simply-effected progressive aims that fit well with our tolerant society, and improve the lives of citizens here and elsewhere.
Some of those assumptions may, unintentionally, have left us and others, vulnerable, however. That poses further heavy questions. Those questions will need to be answered alongside a consideration of the disillusionment and representational voids that feed support for extreme politics and ideologies, failures to recognise and dilute radical influences, upcoming revisions to leadership in America and Europe — perhaps in Germany itself — and an acceptance of the EU’s fundamental inability to respond appropriately to the refugee and Eurozone crises.
How Theresa May deals with the threats that we currently face will be just as defining of her time in office, as how she deals with the technicalities of the Brexit process. How she deals with the relationship between the two will be even more so.