Theresa May: A Poisoned Premiership
Theresa May is an opaque politician. Awkward, stubborn and unwilling to reveal her inner thoughts. Her chaotic tenure, littered with misjudgements, has plodded along due to no one mustering the bravery to tackle Brexit themselves.
In her speech outside Number 10 on 13th July 2016, Theresa May, the last woman standing in an unusual Tory leadership contest comprised of candidate drop outs, described how she was on the side of those ‘just about managing’ and would tackle the societal injustices plaguing their lives. After her victory, she also aimed to please Brexiteers – a major theme of her premiership – by proclaiming the immortal phrase ‘Brexit means Brexit’. She clearly envisaged her turn as PM to be one of domestic reform alongside the delivery of Brexit in the background. In hindsight, this was incredibly naïve, as it has instead been inevitably centred almost entirely on Brexit, with her intransigence and reticence resulting into her tenure mutating into perhaps the most turbulent, uncertain, humiliating and unusual in modern British history.
She is regarded by some as completely inept, as others patronisingly stick up for her by suggesting that she has ‘done her very best’. Sympathy for her has been based on the opinion that she has faced an impossible job; thrown to the lions by Cameron. The public bucking the trend of past British referenda, by going against the wishes of the establishment, in his referendum had turned the premiership into a poisoned chalice. As Danny Dyer has suggested, the ex-PM is now ‘in Nice with his trotters up’.
Although, one could alternatively suggest that May has not helped herself, as her attempt at addressing the result of the referendum has proved to be the biggest political calamity in living memory. She has been aware of this sympathy some show for her and has even, in a Downing Street speech on 20th March, played into this by shifting the blame onto MPs for repeated failures to pass of her deal in the Commons. This, of course, resulted in a huge backlash from MPs, who had already voted down her deal three times as of the time of writing. This decision to heap blame the very people she needs support from is an example of persistent ill-judgement displayed by the PM throughout her tenure.
May blamed MPs in Downing Street on the 20th March for having to delay Brexit. The UK was first scheduled to leave on the 29th March
Her critics cite this ill judgement when blaming her for this political crisis. The Guardian’s Andrew Rawnsley holds this opinion, stating that she “was dealt the worst of hands and has played it spectacularly badly”. Anna Soubry also blames the PM, stating that May should have endeavoured to forge a cross party consensus to reach a deal with the European Union. The member of the Independent Group has a point, as a government of national unity would have gone some way to avoiding the current parliamentary deadlock. Instead, May has pursued a relentless and unwavering attempt to pass her deal through the commons, only recently instigating proper cross-party talks with the Labour Party.
Before this detested deal was even reached, however, May made the most significant mistake of her political career. One that would blight and shape the rest of her time in office; shaping the political crisis in which this country now finds itself. Cameron’s 2015 election victory left May in charge of a parliamentary majority. However, in an ironic move, she called an election for the summer of 2017 in an attempt to increase this and gain a personal mandate to smooth the future passage of Brexit legislation. This decision was catastrophic and ended up having the opposite effect by destroying her chances of an efficient Brexit. Those whose council she heeded, such as Nick Timothy – Downing Street Chief of Staff – and advisor Fiona Hill were forced to resign. They had told her to capitalise on her current higher levels of popularity and crush Corbyn in the process. It seemed a sound decision at the time, as many predicted a Tory landslide. However, as recent events have shown, politics can all too often turn on a sixpence. Brenda from Bristol’s analysis proved to be more insightful than many gave it credit for at the time. ‘Why does she need to do it?’ she asked.
Brenda from Bristol became a viral hit as she exclaimed ‘You’re joking. Not another one?!… Honestly, I can’t stand this. There’s too much politics going on at the moment. Why does she need to do it?’ after being told of the election by a BBC reporter
Corbyn’s Labour Party capitalised on Maybot’s woeful, not so ‘strong and stable’ leadership campaign as she was exposed as a diabolical communicator. Her cough-ridden conference speech – complete with an adequate metaphor of her message falling off of the wall behind her – instigated large amounts of comedic social media posts and her absence at a large leaders television debate caused much public outcry. Combined with the bad press as a result of a so-called ‘dementia tax’ and Labour’s increased emphasis on campaigning online, it was a recipe for an utterly diabolical election campaign. May emerged from results night with her power, integrity and credibility mortally wounded, and she even admitted shedding a small tear. She would never recover her pre-election popularity and higher regard amongst the public or parliamentarians. This displays an explicit lack of understanding in regard to public opinion.
The Daily Mail’s Crush the Saboteurs headline stood out amongst British papers upon her call for a General Election.
Theresa May was notably absent from the televised Leaders Debate during the 2017 GE campaign, as Amber Rudd was thrown into the fray
This emphasis on parliamentary approval, a key reason for the 2017 election, would not have been necessary had it not been for Gina Miller, a prominent business owner currently residing in Chelsea. Her victory at the United Kingdom Supreme Court on 24th January 2017 ruled that the government could not initiate a withdrawal from the EU without consent from MPs and the Lords. Brexiteers saw this as remainer sabotage, whereas Remainers saw it as upholding the authority of parliamentary legislative power over the executive and personal office of the Prime-Minister. This resulted in the result of a direct form of democracy, the form of the 2016 referendum, having to pass through a system of representative democracy, and with an issue as polarising as Brexit, this was always going to be a recipe for a constitutional crisis.
One could argue that her stance has been deliberately ambiguous in an effort to create an adaptable strategy which limits the extent of an inevitable economic downturn in the face of demands for a hard Brexit. She was a rather unwilling Remainer, due to her well known concerns regarding freedom of movement from her time in the Home Office, and was given the consequential nickname of ‘Submarine’ by the Remain campaign due to her reluctant campaigning. Sine taking office, she has stood in the middle of the road, attempting to appease advocates of a harder Brexit and Tory Remainers. Harsh red lines regarding the UK’s exit from EU institutions, like the Customs Union, Single Market and the ECJ, were outlined in both her Florence and Lancaster House Speeches (17th January and 22nd September 2017). These were followed by her Chequers proposal – a product of a sweltering weekend at the PM’s country retreat which both David Davis and Boris Johnson resigned over – and the final deal with the EU, which both suggested incredibly close ties with the EU whilst not remaining in any aforementioned institutions.
This stance came with consequences and a prolific failure to pass the deal through the commons. BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssburg has justifiably cited Thatcher’s criticism of being in the middle of the road, saying that ‘you get knocked down by traffic on both sides’. May knows what this feels like first hand, as she has braved votes of no confidence, defections to the Independent Group, resignations – including that of Dominic Raab who many have said has quit over his own deal – and relentlessly constant criticism from MPs from both sides of the house in the midst of many instances of international humiliation. The biggest defeat of government legislation in parliamentary history is a notable example. Say what you like about her, she is incredibly strong willed. Although, this has largely been necessary because of her own incompetence and blatant disconnect with parliamentary members.
May after suffering the biggest margin of defeat in British parliamentary history (230 votes) after her first attempt to force her widely hated deal through the commons on 15th January 2019
The Irish backstop was a key concern, and threats of being imprisoned within the Customs Union – not relinquished by the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox’s legal advice – resulted in two more failures to force her deal through MP’s nets. The DUP, who came to the rescue after the PM’s electoral defeat and whose MPs formed newly acquired and compulsory foundation pillars for what remains of this government’s power have been particularly stubborn due to the fact that the backstop would mean treating Northern Ireland separately to the rest of the union. May’s rather theatrical last minute attempts to obtain legal changes to the withdrawal agreement to combat these concerns have proven fruitless, and the deal has still not passed through after two more hopeless attempts. The failure of May’s plan is is expressed further by the fact that parliament has effectively taken power from the executive in the form of two unsuccessful series of indicative votes. The PM has had her power take away from her in a very literal sense.
May looks drained after claiming to obtain significant legal changes to the Northern Irish backstop before the second meaningful vote
May is now simply warming the seat of the next PM and had vowed to resign after the first stage of Brexit negotiations has been completed. Her goal has always been the delivery of the result of a botched referendum which, no matter the method of exit, will result in a country worse off than it would have been otherwise. This self-inflicted, voluntary decision is unique within not only British but world peacetime history. She may stagger over the finish line with some form of her deal, as she endeavours to hold onto power until the first stage of these proceedings have concluded. Brexit has been delayed yet again until Halloween and many jokes will inevitably be made about this spooky date as this once reputable and respected parliamentary democracy is squirming in a state of near unbearable pain. The words of Doctor Who’s famous villain, the Master, upon being elected as PM himself in a 2007 episode seem to be especially prevalent today.
This country has been sick. This country needs healing. This country needs medicine. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that what this country really needs, right now, is a doctor.
Theresa May has proven to be a somewhat questionable choice of GP for this ailing democracy which has, undoubtably, been changed forever.