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Why Caligula should be Theresa May's role model
It is probably not a good sign that the best role model for Theresa May as she approaches Brexit's make-or-break moment is Caligula. The most notorious of Roman emperors needed a military triumph to bolster his faltering authority. He gathered legions and supplies, the historian Suetonius tells us, "on an unprecedented scale" and led them towards the French coast facing the English Channel.

He wrote despatches berating the people of Rome for enjoying themselves while he was facing all the hazards and hardships of war. He staged a few harmless skirmishes in Gaul, after which he awarded himself and his sidekicks victory crowns decorated with the sun, moon and stars. Finally, he got to the Channel, ready, it seemed, to embark on an invasion of Britain.

Suetonius tells us that Caligula then drew up his army and his great siege machines in battle array on the shoreline. "No one had the least notion what was on his mind when, suddenly, he gave the order `gather seashells!' He referred to the shells as `plunder from the ocean'...and made the troops fill their helmets and tunic-laps with them".

He then wrote to Rome with orders to "prepare a triumph more lavish than any hitherto known". This incident is generally taken as evidence of Caligula's "brainsickness" and perhaps it is. But the world would be a better place if all glory-hunting megalomaniacs instructed their soldiers, instead of carrying out futile massacres, to collect shells on the beach.


Caligula himself would have known the line from Horace: Parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. The mountains labour and give birth to a ridiculous mouse. The people who were promised a glorious Brexit are entitled to ask: Is that it?

And yet it is in everyone's interest to declare the mouse a lion, and to hail May as a negotiating genius who has forced the EU - and the uppity Irish - into submission.

Ireland is going to get what it wants and needs: no hard border and, in effect, the softest available Brexit.

The British will get, in return, a declaration that if it can solve the Irish problem it can have its Canada-style trade deal - which is like saying that May can win Strictly as soon as she learns to dance.

But we must button our lips and look glum. The British are still going on about Dunkirk - a retreat reimagined as a glorious victory. It is crucially important that May is allowed her Dunkirk moment.

And to do that she must be allowed to talk up her success in getting all the great things that will follow if the Irish problem is ever solved. Don't say: good luck with that. Do say: oh, what lovely seashells!  



Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Nov 6th, 2018 at 08:58:51 PM EST

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