How Did Theresa May Get to be So Bad at Politics? Her doom was sealed back in 2017

The end of Theresa May’s prime ministership is now close, maybe only one more final, likely unsuccessful, attempt to get her EU Withdrawal Agreement though parliament is left as the final act. She may not last even that long, with a mutinous Tory party desperate to usher her out of Downing Street and through the door marked exit. The game is up.

It seems like an age ago now, but things were not always like this. In 2016 when May was gifted the prime ministership, by the other contenders knifing each other in the back, despite winning no election. For a while she was pretty popular, making a speech about ‘burning injustices’, the ‘left behind’ and the ‘just about managing’ families, she and her party were riding high in the opinion polls.

May had decided, to chase the votes of the 52% of voters who voted to leave in the EU referendum, and crucially to shore up support for herself in an increasingly Brexit orientated Tory party. In October 2016 May made her infamous ‘citizens of nowhere’ speech at Tory party conference, which with hindsight, sowed the seeds of her later demise. To put some flesh on the bones of the vacuous ‘Brexit means Brexit’ slogan, May then set out her plans in her Lancaster House speech in January 2017.

She promised to trigger Article 50 at the end of March that year, to start the process of leaving the bloc. There would be no more free movement of peoples, no single market membership and no customs union with the EU. Some other areas were left a bit sketchy, but the aim was to appear to talk tough and appeal to wet dream fantasies of Tory Brexiters. They lapped it up, and the opinion polls indicated popular support.

Article 50 was indeed triggered with overwhelming support in parliament – everything was going plan. Then, call it hubris or extremely poor political judgement, May decided she would capitalise on the mood in the country, and call a snap general election. There was infighting in the main opposition party, after Jeremy Corby became leader and the Tories had a big lead in the opinion polls. She would increase her small majority in parliament inherited from David Cameron, and be free to do pretty much as she liked in government. What could possibly go wrong?

The general election in June 2017 was a disaster. The worst election campaign by the Tory party that I have ever seen unfolded. Despite attempts to hide May away from the public, holding rallies in remote places, restricted to party supporters, it became clearer and clearer that May had none of the skills required of a prime minister. Wooden in her delivery, unable to think on her feet and stray away from a prearranged text, uncomfortable taking questions from the media or the public. She quickly became known as the ‘Maybot’.

To make matters worse, unpopular policies like the ‘Dementia Tax’ were sprung on the voters, the Labour party performed well and the Tories lost their majority in parliament and May was forced to make a deal with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to hang onto power. This didn’t come cheap either, having to bribe the DUP to the tune of £1.5 billion.

I think this is when the ‘citizens of nowhere’ speech came back to haunt May. I know quite a lot of people who said to me that they would vote Labour, even though they were ‘not left wing’ and some cases people who normally voted Tory. They were mainly remain voters who were spooked by May’s October speech, and didn’t want May to have a massive majority in parliament, to enable her to ram through whatever kind of Brexit she wanted to. These voters, ideally, wanted a hung parliament, and managed to deliver it.

Ever since, it has been one humiliation after the other for May. Three times her EU Withdrawal Agreement has been rejected, once going down to the biggest parliamentary defeat for a British government ever. Ministerial resignations became two a penny, as even those who stayed in May’s Cabinet began setting out individual views on Brexit, which has made a mockery out of ‘Cabinet collective responsibility’.  

All culminating in not actually leaving the EU on 29 March this year, as promised, and to really rub May’s nose in it, the UK having to take part in European Parliament elections, two months after we were meant to leave the EU altogether.

How can May have got to the top of her party and leader of her country, after years in politics, and be so bad at actually doing politics? It is incredible that she wasn’t found out sooner to be completely unsuitable to be prime minister.

May has at least done David Cameron a favour, and will replace him in the history books, as the worst UK prime minister ever, until, at least, her successor is chosen by the Tory party. It is far from impossible that who follows her will claim that particular accolade. But for now, it is all hers.     

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