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Why bad news for the Conservatives is good news for Theresa May

The worse things get, the more and more unattractive her job becomes. 

It’s fair to say that Theresa May’s first week since being re-elected – after a fashion – has not been a great one. Criticised for her hesitant response to the Grenfell Tower fire, with even the friendly papers now discussing at length who will replace her and when, her misery has been compounded by a set of figures showing Labour continuing to climb in the polls, and Jeremy Corbyn overtaking her in the popularity stakes.

Her own rating is now lower than Jeremy Corbyn’s, and as for the Labour leader, his approval rating has reached a net zero for the first time, making him the most popular UK-wide politician in the country. (Intriguingly, the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales, and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, are all more popular than any nationwide political figure.)

To make matters worse, inflation is up, increasing the downward pressure on wages. No government has ever gained seats when it has gone to the country when wages are falling. The Conservatives believed they would break that cycle on 8 June but instead they fell prey to it. Put simply, until the economy improves, they will be looking to their next brush with the electorate with deep unease.

And then there’s Corbyn. Not only is he feeling the benefit of a party that is now more or less entirely united behind him, but he is continuing to act as if the election campaign is in full swing. A visitor from another planet, switching on the television, would think that Corbyn was already Prime Minister. It’s Corbyn, not May, who is being photographed and filmed looking statesmanlike at Grenfell Tower and Finsbury Park mosque.

Although the leader’s office privately expects that the Conservatives will regain their poll lead once May strikes her deal with the Democratic Unionist Party and is able to get back on the front foot, the credit they are accruing now may prove impossible for the Conservatives to claw back.

That’s obviously bad news for the Tories. But it’s good news for Theresa May, at least as far as her hope of clinging on long enough to leave a legacy other than transforming a double-digit advantage over Labour into a hung parliament. Why?

Well, bluntly for the same reason no one held a mutiny after the Titanic hit the iceberg. No one wants to go down as the captain who sank the ship, and the more holed below the waterline the good ship HMS Conservative looks, the less attractive the top job looks. 

What I’m hearing more and more from Conservative MPs is that it is best for May to act as “the sin-eater” in the words of one, to absorb as much flak and dislike as possible, while the party quietly U-turns on its fiscal plans, resolves the Brexit issue and is able to go into the next election in four years with a fresh face and a clean slate. (The expectation among both Labour and Conservative MPs is that while the DUP will strike a hard bargain, they will ultimately agree to keep May in office for the foreseeable future.)

Of course, May’s position is so fragile that anything – a gaffe, an unpopular announcement, a particularly bad set of polls, anything – could upend that calculation. Mutiny aboard the Titanic might become a much more attractive prospect than it currently seems very quickly.

But despite everything, for May, at least, bad news is good news. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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Why gay men love this photo of Prince George looking fabulous

It's not about sexuality, but resisting repressive ideas about what masculinity should be.

Last week’s royal tour by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge provided the most intimate view of the young family to date. Throughout the five-day visit to Poland and Germany, it was the couple’s adorable children who stole the spotlight.

As George and Charlotte become better acquainted with a world in which everyone recognises them, this level of public scrutiny is something that will no doubt have to be carefully managed by the family.

But there is one particular image from the trip that has both captured people’s hearts and prompted debate. On the eve of his fourth birthday, Prince George was invited behind the driver’s seat of a helicopter in Germany. Immaculately dressed in a purple gingham shirt neatly tucked in to navy shorts, the future King is pictured staring out of the helicopter in awe.

As a man who was visibly gay from a young age, the distinctly feminine image of George smiling as he delicately places his hands on his face instantly struck a chord with me. In fact, an almost identical photograph of five-year-old me happily playing in the garden is hung on my parents' kitchen wall. Since the photos appeared online, thousands of other gay men have remarked that the innocence of this image reminds them of childhood. In one viral tweet, the picture is accompanied by the caption: “When mom said I could finally quit the soccer team.” Another user remarks: “Me walking past the Barbies at Toys ‘R’ Us as a child.”

Gay men connecting this photograph of Prince George with their childhood memories has been met with a predictable level of scorn. “Insinuating that Prince George is gay is just the kind of homophobia you’d be outraged by if it was you," tweets one user. “Gay men should know better than that. He is a CHILD," says another.

Growing up gay, I know how irritating it can be when everyone needs to “know” your sexual orientation before you do. There are few things more unhelpful than a straight person you barely know telling you, as they love to do, that they “always knew you were gay” years after you came out. This minimises the struggle it took to come to terms with your sexuality and makes you feel like everyone was laughing at you behind your back as you failed to fit in.

I also understand that speculating about a child's future sexual orientation, especially from one photograph, has potential to cause them distress. But to assume that gay men tweeting this photograph are labelling Prince George is a misunderstanding of what we take from the image.

The reaction to this photo isn’t really about sexuality; it’s about the innocence of childhood. When I look at the carefree image of George, it reminds me of those precious years in early childhood when I didn’t know I was supposed to be manly. The time before boys are told they should like “boy things”, before femininity becomes associated with weakness or frivolity. Thanks to a supportive environment created by my parents, I felt that I could play with whichever toys I wanted for those short years before the outside world pressured me to conform.

Effeminate gay men like me have very specific experiences that relate to growing up in a heteronormative world. It is incredibly rare to see anything that remotely represents my childhood reflected in popular culture. This image has prompted us to discuss our childhoods because we see something in it that we recognise. In a community where mental illness and internalised homophobia are rife, sharing memories that many of us have suppressed for years can only be a good thing.

People expressing outrage at any comparisons between this image and growing up gay should remember that projecting heterosexuality on to a child is also sexualising them. People have no problem assuming that boys are straight from a young age, and this can be equally damaging to those who don’t fit the mould. I remember feeling uncomfortable when asked if my female friends were my girlfriends while I was still in primary school. The way young boys are taught to behave based on prescribed heterosexuality causes countless problems. From alarmingly high suicide rates to violent behaviour, the expectation for men to be tough and manly hurts us all.

If you are outraged at the possibility that the future king could perhaps be gay, but you are happy to assume your son or nephew is heterosexual, you should probably examine why that is. This not only sends out the message that being gay is wrong, but also that it is somehow an embarrassment if we have a gay King one day. Prince William appeared on the cover of Attitude magazine last year to discuss LGBT bullying, so we can only hope he will be supportive of his son regardless of his future sexuality.

Whether Prince George grows up to be heterosexual or not is completely irrelevant to why this image resonates with people like me. It is in no way homophobic to joke about this photograph if you don't see a boy being feminine as the lesser, and the vast majority of posts that I’ve seen come from a place of warmth, nostalgia and solidarity. 

What really matters is that Prince George feels supported when tackling the many obstacles that his unique life in the spotlight will present. In the meantime, we should all focus on creating a world where every person is accepted regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, because clearly we’ve got some way to go.