Theresa May: Not good, just lucky

Lili Bidwell 19 January 2017

To become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom takes a certain amount of skill and a good deal of luck. To do so as a woman, it must be said, is a particularly commendable achievement. In Theresa May, however, the scales are so heavily balanced towards luck that one might be induced to laugh at her long career of cons and flukes. Or at least one would laugh if it were not so terrifying that a politician who nobody chose to be elected as PM is leading the most important negotiations this country will face in our lifetime.

Those who peddle the threadbare myth that Theresa May is a capable, no-nonsense ‘safe pair of hands’ often use as evidence her six years as Home Secretary. There must be something in this argument, and her resolve in the face of the daily sexism of the tabloids and the political establishment deserves respect. Yet May’s time as Home Secretary was near-disastrous.

She set herself a plethora of targets, and missed them all. For example, she failed to fulfil the “no ifs, no buts” pledge to get immigration down to the tens of thousands by 2015, explaining it away with some almighty ifs and buts. And let us not forget the Big Brother-esque mobile billboards telling illegal immigrants to “go home” (“not a success”, May later admitted). Or a judge finding her in contempt of court over her draconian refusal to free an Algerian national from a detention centre. Or her distaste for the European Court of Human Rights.

I am perplexed as to why six years of cruelty and gaffes have been collectively forgotten by the British people. What of her more recent record? Showing more talent for the Machiavellian than policy, ‘Submarine May’, as Cameron’s team bitterly dubbed her, managed to keep stealthily below water except at opportune moments during the referendum. This may have been clever politics, but for someone who claimed Britain was better off in the EU, May did a remarkable impression of a person who really didn’t care what happened, as long as their career benefitted. Had the Most Spineless Politician of 2016 Award not seen such stiff competition (Gove and Johnson outdid themselves), the honour would surely have been hers.

After those pantomime villains had destroyed each other’s chances, May and Andrea Leadsom were the only ones left in the running for the PM’s job. Having Andrea Leadsom as your only opponent—someone who spent a large part of her first hustings talking about massaging babies’ heads, and thought attacking May for her childlessness would be a good idea in 2016—is perhaps the crowning glory of all the flukes of May’s career. Once Leadsom’s whoopee cushion of a campaign deflated, May was free to become Prime Minister unelected.

With the Labour Party in complete disarray, she remains unopposed. May and her disunited cabinet are making a complete mess of the EU negotiations, having only made a limp plan this week, six months after the referendum. At PMQs, the paltriness of Labour’s general opposition has allowed her almost every time to reach for a flippant, ready-prepared retort. Even when Corbyn’s questions are serious and important, she knows she won’t be held to account for her replies. And the same applies for her actions, be they her rash decisions on grammar schools or her inane “red, white and blue” plan for Brexit.

A Tory Government with such a slim Commons majority overseeing crises in negotiations with the European Union and in the criminally underfunded NHS should be suffering under relentless Labour attacks. But the charmed life of Theresa May continues, and despite never having proved that she’s much good, she has free reign to realise her reckless halfvision of Britain’s future outside the EU.