In Defence of Theresa May
To say that Theresa May is unpopular would be an understatement. Ever since the 2017 snap election her approval rating has been spiralling, enjoying the occasional moments of respite here and there but ultimately staying low. The Conservative electoral campaign hinged itself on May’s popularity which was at record highs before the election. This spotlight however would be May’s undoing; not taking part in debates, putting out controversial policies, then procedurally performing awkward U-turns and beating the public over the head with slogans. All of this undeniably sullied the campaign and as a result, May herself, with what was interpreted as weakness and incapability.
Crucially, her campaign did not feel like one which represented Britain’s ‘natural party of Government’; she appeared to stumble at every hurdle, seemingly kicking up a miasma of awkward incompetency at every public appearance. Having lost the Conservatives majority despite starting with an 18-point lead many called for her resignation. Today criticism of, or lack of confidence in Theresa May still encapsulates this feeling.
Arguably May, in digging her kitten-heels in and refusing to surrender, channelled the ferocious conviction and sense of duty of some of the greatest Conservative figures to have come before her. With Brexit in shambles and the party more divided than ever, only the many controversies of Corbyn’s Labour keep the Tories in power.
Brexit has indeed proven to be a double-edged sword for May’s premiership; it is such a poison chalice that no MP dare challenge her leadership while the process is being carried out, offering her a temporary yet unique political immunity. However, once Britain has exited the EU and May has emptied the poison chalice, this protection will certainly disintegrate. Rival leadership candidates will emerge from all over, as she will surely be facing her very own ides of March. Et tu Boris?
However, considering the circumstances, May has arguably done a far better job than what her contriving detractors claim. we must give her credit where credit is due. we must give her credit where credit is due.
Brexit is arguably the biggest obstacle this country has had to overcome since the Second World War. Brexit is in no way comparable to World War Two in terms of the immanent destruction that the latter threatened; but as far as political events go, it is somewhat comparable as Britain once again seeks to redefine its place is in the world and, to delineate the values to which it aspires.The issue is during war-time, a spirit of bi-partisanship swept the country. Poltical rivalries were put aside for the greater good and everyone agreed on what Britain should stand for. This resulted in the great consensus between the major parties that lasted until the 70s. May however, is faced with a political climate that has never been more toxic, tribalistic or polarized.
No one can seem to agree on what Brexit ought be. Hard-line Brexiteers like Gove or Johnson press for a clean cut from the EU in all regards, going as far as to advocate for a no deal. On the other hand Remainers, the likes of Hammond and the ever ardent Anna Soubry would find this unacceptable.
Without a clear majority, even the likes of Thatcher herself would have struggled to get a better deal. Reports of alleged Russian interference to purposefully create a hung parliament and weaken Britain’s Brexit position does present Theresa May in a more sympathetic light. Even if true however, the blow is only softened. The horrendous nature of the Campaign remains her fault. Nevertheless, to her credit It should be noted that in terms of votes, May got more than Blair did in his landslide victory in 1997.
Regarding the Chequers deal, the irony is that the best compromise is often the one that satisfies neither party. This is Certainly the case with the Chequers deal. However, it is of utmost importance that this deal is not partisan. Rather, it is the implementation of the largest democratic vote in British history. Personally, I still believe the use of referenda in the UK is a bad idea, it leads to the oversimplification of issues and only further entrenches political divisions. It the ultimate form of dereliction of duty by Parliament. Still, once a vote had been made it cannot be unmade without it being a huge affront to democracy (unless it is unmade by a democratic action on the same scale such as a second referendum, but this is a different issue all together).
Theresa May has an almost impossible task: she has a responsibility to ensure that Britain has a workable economic relationship with the EU as well as a strong international position to make trade deals with the rest of the world In order to satisfy business. She needs to ensure that Britain unbinds itself, as far as possible from the institutions of the EU in order to satisfy Brexiteers. She needs to forge an intimate a relationship with our neighbours to retain as many former perks as possible with the EU in order to satisfy the many Remainers who do not wish to leave. The alienation of any these groups would spell disaster for both the Conservative Party, and more importantly Britain, for a generation.
In this regard, May has fulfilled her role in the implementation of Brexit with a strange exceptionalness. She does not seek popularity but prioritises the creation of the best possible Brexit for all parties involved; in this case, the risk and reward are necessarily antagonistic, as she forges a Brexit deal which does not give in too much to any particular side. This is wholly fitting, as no side holds absolute sway and there is no clear majority of opinion. Even within the Leave faction, this is the case with most Brexiteers having different ideas of what it should look like.
Personally, Theresa May would not be my first preference for the prime ministerial office. Certainly I am not alone in this feeling. Nevertheless, her dogged perseverance is admirable; she has remained self-assured and has fought to deliver a Brexit that, while not ideal, is workable. I will not attempt to augur the future but if a deal is passed, that retains the essential perks of EU membership while delivering sovereignty back to Parliament then Theresa May will have decidedly succeeded in carrying out her duty to this country. Whether her Party sees this as enough of a reason to keep her in power is a different question all together.