With Theresa May’s long-awaited resignation now confirmed, the UK’s second female Prime Minister’s time in office draws to a close. Characterised by poor leadership, a lack of charisma and inflexibility, May was derided by her opponents and many in her party. She was afforded minimal regard, and little support. Plagued by challenges from the start to the end, how are we to view our soon-to-depart PM?
Theresa May’s third defeat in the House of Commons and her promised resignation if her Brexit Bill passed has cast a looming shadow of failure over her Government, effectively speeding up its demise. A despondent Cabinet, an ever-weakening majority in the Commons and calls from both sides of the house for her to step down, her future had seemed bleak for a long time. However, the final death blow came from Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom, the last among dozens of Cabinet resignations.
But Theresa May’s time as Prime Minister was shaky to begin with. After David Cameron’s resignation in 2016, a tenuous leadership election followed by a general election led to many scratching their heads - especially from the younger generations. I remember a strong number of my friends all asking in equal confusion, ‘Theresa May? Who’s that?’ Everyone I spoke with seemed to know Boris, not her. Nevertheless, Prime Minister May secured herself in Number 10 with a mandate for Brexit.
Most of the anti-Tory headlines labelled her goofy and awkward. Her infamous interview where she described her naughtiest moment as running through “fields of wheat” came across as robotic and out of touch. This was in stark contrast to other political leaders such as the pint-sharing Nigel Farage or the marginally more in touch Jeremy Corbyn.
However, by late 2018 her image did seem to be improving. News commentators and party supporters were sympathetic to the cause of a resilient PM against a rebellious legislature.
But a continuing failure to push through her agenda, an incapability to meet the popular ‘mandate of Brexit’, and a lack of consensus with Labour forced her hand, and ultimately, has led us to this moment. Fundamentally, May will be remembered in recent memory as a failure. To Brexiteers, she will be seen as one of many of the establishment which stood in the way of the Brexit dream. To Remainers, her legislative failure will be seen as a weakness of leadership. This may all be troubling for the Conservative Party, but Labour has done little better due to their own division on Brexit.
Should she have taken a page out of her female predecessor’s book, and not stood in the middle of the road to be hit by both sides of traffic? Or was she too obtuse, and unwilling negotiate as her Cabinet said? The BBC’s Nick Watt claims that when asked to opine on Theresa May’s decision to call a third vote on her Brexit deal, a Cabinet Minister told him: “F*** knows, I'm past caring. It's like the living dead in here. Theresa May is the sole architect of this mess."
Public opinion tells a similar story, and both major parties have had little electoral success in the recent Council elections and European election polls. Will this translate into legislative success for the Brexit Party and Lib-Dems?
May's time as PM has undoubtably been dominated by public opinion of Brexit progress, but due to the political split of the vote it is impossible to please all. But her actions showed a clear resilience in the process, and indicate a belief in trying to do what was right for the country. In a world where good becomes increasingly more subjective, it is hard to think that May could have done it any better.
Our second Female Prime Minister is a living reminder that we should hold all our political leaders to the same account and standard: regardless of gender, or any of the increasing variations that we find in our ever-diverse world. To many of the young, she encompassed the beginning of our political journey and in many ways, has served as a great example from which to learn.
We can admire her resilience or suck our teeth at her failures, but our future has been shaped by her decisions. If not for the crisis of Brexit, it is possible that May could have been a very capable administrator of the nation; with a strong track record as Home Secretary and great care for economic interests, she could well have continued the Conservative legacy of maintaining economic growth. Unfortunately, Brexit has occupied not only our political discourse, but our national psyche. Let us hope that the next leader of the country can heal the wounds that have been ripped open by Brexit.
Pick a side of the road to be hit from; do not choose both.