The origin of ‘strong and stable’. The alternative facts.
Sunday morning, a month before the general election. A rare leisurely breakfast together for the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and her consort. Fresh and tasty, it consists of strawberries from Cheddar (no cream), muesli, wholemeal toast, Welsh butter and homemade marmalade from a stall in Leatherhead.
No newspapers. Church service locally, then interviews midday onwards for her, and a walk with an old chum for him.
‘You seem thoughtful, darling,’ said the PM.
‘Yes,’ said her husband. ‘Thing is, I have a question for you, sort of. Rather delicate - intimate, actually. Not a question, really, more a concern.’
As when facing some of her more verbose critics in the Commons, the PM adopted a patient, enquiring expression, while her husband came to the point. He seemed to struggle for the words. She reached and pressed his hand. He took a deep breath, and it all came out.
‘It’s this. Last night, it was your hands that woke me, stroking and squeezing. And then you whispered – I don’t know why we whisper, funny, isn’t it – you whispered, “Let’s see, are you strong and stable? Mmm, oh yes.” Now I like encouragement as much as the next man, and I used to love those words from you. But along comes this election, and you steal our intimate, personal phrase as a campaign mantra. Our words. For heaven’s sake. They’re not the same any more. Now when you say to me, “strong and stable”, I wonder if I am being addressed as the nation rather than being readied for action. And when I hear you on the telly, avowing to the world “strong and stable government”, frankly, I don’t know where to put myself.’
‘And last night was the final straw. You said “strong and stable” quite a few times. But, as things progressed, … there’s no easy way to say this, you called me “Mr Erdoğan” … three times ... at crucial moments.’
With that, horrid though it was, it had all made sense to him, he explained, this hijacking of ‘strong and stable’. The clues had been there for weeks.
Her keenness to go hiking in Turkey come the summer holidays, and the Foreign Secretary being ticked off to do some research on footpaths.
Her daily briefing on the Turkish referendum campaign.
Her ‘Turkish lessons’. He wondering why she would tackle such a difficult language. She responding, rather sharply, ‘Not that sort of lesson; learning from Turkey, how to have strong and stable government.’
Her admiration. What about a moustache? Where did Mr Erdoğan have his suits made? Did Mr Erdoğan work out?
Her picking up the Erdoğan ploy, defining opponents as supporters of terrorism. A touch heavy-duty for Britain, even coming from an ex-Home Secretary, so instead, she declared that anyone at Westminster with the mildest misgivings was putting the country’s future at risk by ‘playing games’. ‘Saboteurs’ yelled the Daily Mail. Brilliant.
And last night, to cap it all, her Mr Erdoğan comes to bed.
‘What am I to do with you?’ The PM’s husband looked glum.
‘Well,’ said the Prime Minister, ‘let’s have a new phrase instead of “strong and stable”.’
‘Who? Us or the party?’
‘Good question,’ she said.