Fair play to Theresa May, 60. I am not sure about the relevance of her age in the Mirror story about the prime minister who attended a lunch in her constituency, organised by a community group called Churches Together, for elderly people at risk of loneliness. “It is great to be here at this event again this year,” gushed Mrs May. “It is simply a fantastic event. It is very important. They can come together to have a good time, and probably sing a song or two at some point.” As I said, fair play to Mrs May because this is what MPs are supposed to do, but even at this time of year when we are supposed to show goodwill to everyone, including cynical, publicity-seeking politicians, I am far from impressed.
May cares today but she didn’t care yesterday. She didn’t care last week either and she certainly didn’t care when chancellor Philip Hammond read out his autumn statement and said absolutely nothing about the collapse in social care. I certainly wasn’t aware of May’s concerns throughout the last year as I visited and worked with large numbers of people who were not so much at risk of loneliness: they WERE lonely, in some cases desperately so. There are people out there, believe it or not, who see no-one for days on end and others who receive the bare minimum in assistance.
The main aim of Churches Together is this: “Churches Together in England is a visible sign in England of the Churches’ commitment as they seek a deepening of their communion with Christ and with one another, and proclaim the Gospel together by common witness and service. Its strength comes from people from different traditions finding new ways to work and worship together.” This is the religious equivalent of business-speak, virtually unintelligible drivel except for one overriding priority: the promotion of religion. Everything else comes second.
I would like to think that the good people of Maidenhead were helping their fellow citizens through the kindness of their hearts, rather than to please God. If it was the latter, then I’d be very disappointed because it would mean people doing good in order to reserve their spaces in heaven. Working in the “third sector” as I do, the overwhelming majority of people I work alongside do not do so in order to impress God but because they want to make a difference.
I fear that May is making a far bigger statement with her visit today. With social care in crisis – and believe me it is in a major crisis – then maybe she wants all social care to be run like this? She said today’s event was “fantastic” so I’d love to know how she would describe the rest of the year when hundreds of thousands of senior citizens are effectively left to it and don’t have the prime minister taking an hour out of her Christmas Day schedule for a photo shoot. (If it wasn’t a photo shoot, how come the press knew she was there?)
The best part of the story in the Daily Mirror – the Daily Mirror of all papers! – was the headline itself: “Theresa May helps lonely elderly people at special Christmas Day dinner.” Define help. She chatted with people, pulled a few crackers and for all I know poured out a festive sherry. Then what?
Actions are louder than words and turning up today and doing nothing tomorrow is par for the course with British politicians. Not just May, pretty well all of them.
“They can come together to have a good time, and probably sing a song or two at some point,” said Mrs May, because all old people “sing a song or two at some point”, don’t they?
If I was there, I’d launch into a bit of Gloria Gaynor:
“Go on now, go, walk out the door
Just turn around now
‘Cause you’re not welcome anymore
Weren’t you the one who tried to hurt me with goodbye
Do you think I’d crumble
Did you think I’d lay down and die?”