TRUE to form, Theresa May’s short and gloomy reign was ending yesterday with her refusing to talk to colleagues, even while parroting that nothing had changed.
That was always her way, always her problem.
Getty Theresa May seems to be repeating her mistakes as she refuses to talk to colleagues while pretending that nothing has changed
It happened at Chequers last summer, when she invited the Cabinet to her country pile and ambushed them with a soft-Brexit plan devised in secret with civil servants. Treachery amid the herbaceous borders.
Boris Johnson and David Davis resigned at the stitch-up because vicar’s daughter May had behaved atrociously.
Same this week. She held a long meeting with Cabinet ministers to agree (so they thought) on one course of action.
Off sauntered Mrs May to make a speech proposing a markedly different course of action — a concession on a second EU referendum.
You can’t blame Andrea Leadsom for quitting in fury. When a PM goes rogue like that, anger is legitimate. Actually, it becomes necessary.
Theresa May, a former bank worker and local councillor, entered the Commons in 1997.
Her Maidenhead seat had such a hefty “True Blue” majority that she felt she never needed to fear the voters.
From the outset it was obvious that this slender, slightly bloodless backbencher would prosper. Not that she made brilliant speeches. Good heavens no. But she had that sheen of apparent competence that today’s managers have made their own.
SUBMARINE MAY WOULD PROWL THE DEEP
Youthful Theresa spoke the bland bureaucratic lingo and she did so with safely modulated rhythms. She never led, never resisted. She had Establishment printed all over her.
She did politics the way the Tunnock’s factory makes tea-cakes. Everything was tidily wrapped. The outer coating was tempting. It was only when you bit into it that you realised how insubstantial she was.
As Tory chairman in 2002 she made a conference speech telling activists they were regarded as “the nasty party”.
From the outset it was obvious that this slender, slightly bloodless backbencher would prosper.
This created a sensation, London commentators saying she was right to shake shires Tories out of their delusions.
But the volunteers, driven more by a sense of honour than clever-clever strategy, felt insulted. May had scored an own goal and weakened her political base. It was a mistake she would repeat as PM.
She never suspected that speech would cause such a stink. Instead of revelling in her new-found prominence, she retreated to obscurity.
Some politicians are always on the hunt for headlines. Not May. Anti-populism was more her thing. She became known as “Submarine May”, seldom surfacing, seldom making radio contact with high command, just prowling the deep.
In the long years of Tory opposition she was shadow secretary of state for education, transport, local government, environment, culture and pensions and shadow leader of the Commons. “Shadow” was indeed the word.
Times Newspapers Ltd In 1997, the former banker entered the Commons as new MP for Maidenhead
Reuters Five years later, she made her infamous ‘nasty party’ speech
She was at best a penumbral figure. In none of these briefs did she do anything radical.
Tory leaders kept her because she did not make gaffes, was sleaze-free (her marriage to stockbroker Philip, one year her junior, was enviably strong) and because every front bench needs a few bores.
The occasional dullard makes the bright ones feel better about themselves.
Her low-key approach was fine as a mere frontbencher, even as Home Secretary.
She waded dutifully through her red boxes. Once or twice she showed a sliver of political ankle. With the encouragement of Fleet Street, she blocked the extradition to the US of computer hacker Gary McKinnon.
Tory leaders kept her because she did not make gaffes, was sleaze-free and because every front bench needs a few bores.
It surprised her boss, David Cameron, as much as anyone.
May had kept the matter tightly to herself, chewing on it alone. She took on the Police Federation, whose leaders at that time probably deserved squashing a bit.
Her longevity at the Home Office started to become part of her appeal. May was a stayer in a tricky job. So said everyone. Maybe she started to believe she was indestructible.
Was she clever? Not startlingly so. But she was dogged.
She was never caught out by a question of detail. In the ‘chillaxed’ Cameron government, that made her unusual.
Not an easy colleague, though. She feuded with George Osborne and Michael Gove. A more silken operator would have smoothed down such squabbles.
Come the EU referendum of 2016, the submarine went into a deep dive.
May had been thought to be a closet Eurosceptic and the Camerons were relieved when she came out in support of Remain. That was about the last they saw of her.
Mind you, given her uselessness at campaigning — which became so painfully apparent in 2017 — they were lucky.
If she had fronted any Remain rallies, the Leave vote might have gone even higher.
Some accused her of cowardice in hiding from the fray but it meant that when Cameron quit, and leadership contenders contrived to blow their chances, May was acceptable as Brexit Britain’s new PM.
AFP In 2016, she took over as PM and started to believe she was indestructible
PA:Press Association However, a year later it became painfully clear how terrible she was at campaigning
London News Pictures Now she is left isolated as Andrea Leadsom quits over the Brexit fiasco and the Cabinet try to force her from power
“Brexit means Brexit and we’re going to make a success of it,” she claimed. Her time at No 10 has, at times, been hard to watch.
Worst moment was probably that 2017 conference speech when her voice failed. What a farce that was.
Her descent has been dizzyingly fast. In February 2017, the Tories won the Copeland by-election. That was the high-water mark.
Days later she went walking in Snowdonia and called a snap election. She went into the campaign 20 points ahead in the polls. And she blew it.
Was it cockiness? Her lack of elan? Her turgid “strong and stable” slogan?
Okay, we Brits like an underdog but the Tories and Labour had promised to honour the Leave result and we naively believed them. Whatever the reason, May lost.
‘POLITICS IS SALESMANSHIP’
From that moment her power shrivelled. She did have some merits. Her physical stamina, particularly for a diabetic, has been remarkable. Downing Street under her was much freer of shysters and crooks than it was in the Blair and Cameron years.
She did not send loads of cronies to the Lords. She was polite, unlike phone-chucker Brown. She was uninterested in the shallow, celebrity world and continued to attend church most Sundays, even when political hassles were at their worst.
There was seriousness about her, certainly. Yet that lack of vanity and modern vibes, on one level so honourable, became a handicap. Politics is salesmanship. If you can create an aura of excitement, it helps you to sell policies.
May just bored the smalls off us. And she surrounded herself with inadequates. Some of her ministers were rank D-listers. The civil servants seized power and the electorate’s will went ignored.
Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill may have thought he was helping her but in his sly attempt to bypass Brexit he has killed his mistress.
For a woman so often hailed as stubborn, she proved a terrible pushover in the dealings with Brussels.
And the “Bloody difficult woman”, as Ken Clarke called her, was equally feeble in standing up to Remainer ministers like Philip Hammond and Greg Clark.
Was she incompetent? Or did she (and Sedwill) want the softest of EU exits all along? Certainly looks that way.
She might have got away with it had Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party not leapt out of nowhere. That has put that fear of bejaysus up Tory and Labour MPs.
CommentTHE SUN SAYS Theresa May won’t be the Prime Minister who delivers Brexit — she must go NOW CommentROD LIDDLE Brexit’s been betrayed by the snarling duds of May — so go & vote Farage today CommentTHE SUN SAYS Brexit Party victory will be the election kicking the Tories & Labour deserve CommentJANE MOORE Time for something completely different…let’s put the boot in at EU elections CommentROSS CLARK The United Nations: where dictators are praised and democracies condemned
Mrs May might never had felt much need to heed the electorate but MPs in marginal seats are more alert to public sentiment.
And public sentiment is now molten against May. Her premiership was only about Brexit. No other policy had a look-in.
Her inability to deliver that central mission makes the verdict brutal but unavoidable: This stonewall warrior, secretive, robotic, dithery in an age that demands wit and clarity, was, as a PM, the most monumental dud.
Times Newspapers Ltd Theresa May’s inability to deliver on her central mission was unfortunately the most monumental dud
Reuters PM was humiliated at Tory Party Conference when the letters fell down during her speech
Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom said she had to resign over Theresa May’s Brexit plan that had elements ‘I cannot support’