May’s management skills are under huge scrutiny – again – as she faces another week of squabbling at her Cabinet table. Unruly, abrasive, and very shouty – like a brood of teenage children – there’s a heap of issues amongst her ministers for her to sort; the flagrant flouting of her authority, arrogant freelancing, destabilizing plots and bitter divisions. The prime minister will need to find a deep inner resolve and a fierce-some steeliness to sort this lot.
You’ve got to wonder, with all this distracting noise and political maneuvering – who is actually doing any work?
Certainly not Priti Patel who was forced to resign yesterday (for forgetting to mention that on her recent “family holiday” to Israel she conducted a series of meetings – including the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to discuss highly controversial uses of the UK’s overseas aid budget.) Nor Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary who’s having to answer for his most recent gaffe (he told a parliamentary committee last week that a British woman imprisoned in Iran was in that country to teach journalists. But Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s employer and family insist she was in the country to visit relatives). Nor Damian Green, Mrs May’s de facto deputy and her most trusted lieutenant, whose busy denying claims of inappropriate behaviour to a Cabinet Office inquiry. Amongst the rest; they are either campaigning for or against Brexit or mired in the allegations of sexual misconduct – just who, then, has got their mind focussed on the country?
There’s a flower for this thistly Conservative Cabinet; Eryngium planum, commonly called sea holly. Spiky and steely in looks, stony in character (they thrive in coastal and rocky areas) Eryngium is often associated with sternness, and austerity and an independence of spirit.
A genus of the Apiaceae family, you’ll probably know Eryngium alpinum ‘Superbum – a cut flower with striking good looks; steel-blue, thistle-like flower heads standing proud on a narrow, spiky collar of spiny, blue-green bracts.
But they come many shapes (there are about 250 species) and several colours, from silver green to cobalt blue through to deep purple (like many a Conservative perhaps, they become more blue with maturity).
If Theresa wants to show her steel and mettle, she should get some Eryngium Giganteum quick. This plant is substantial, 3 feet in height with a thick, greenish-silver stem and marbled, heart-shaped foliage. A ruff of large, prickly, steely-grey bracts frames a large central thimble. It screams ‘don’t mess with me’.
It’s known too as Miss Willmott’s Ghost, after the celebrated gardener Ellen Willmott (1869-1934) who surreptitiously sprinkled its seeds in gardens she visited. The plants would always mysteriously appear – two years later (but take note are not long-lived, it dies after blooming).
“It is good for a man to eat thistles and to remember that he is an ass.”
But there’s medicinal folklore to this plant that might be of interest to Mrs May. She could well consider serving some up with the tea – to clear the air – at the next Cabinet meeting. It’s strange name, Eryngium, comes from the Greek meaning to cure flatuence. Over the centuries the roots, which taste like parsnip (they come from the carrot family), have been used for stomach complaints (and a range of other ailments like kidney stones, prostrate glands, cystitis, even epilepsy). Sweetened roots were also used for bad breath (in Shakespeare’s day, they were called “kissing-comfits”). But she should bear in mind they reportedly also have aphrodisiac properties…
As she faces more accusations of chaos, catastrophe, and cowardliness, Theresa may well be seeking some solace this weekend. She might find making a cup for herself a helpful remedy; water distilled from the whole young plant (as recommended by the 17th century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper) was said to soothe “the melancholy of the heart”.
Chin up, dear.