It took patience and some cunning for Theresa May to make it through two years in No 10by Alex Massie / July 13, 2018 / Leave a comment
The thing to remember is that Theresa May was not, and never could be, Andrea Leadsom. Not being Leadsom, whose ambition to lead the Conservative Party I am afraid remains undimmed, was enough to make May prime minister, but never quite enough to dispel the sense that she was an accidental premier and that this, in some nagging way, mattered.
They were the final two. David Cameron had impaled himself on Brexit, taking George Osborne with him. Stephen Crabb set fire to his own campaign before it properly began. Liam Fox was Liam Fox. And while Michael Gove’s knifing of Boris Johnson may be thought to have done the country some service, it came at the price of fatally wounding his own chances of moving into Downing Street.
Even then there was something equivocal about May’s candidacy. She was plainly the adult candidate, yet doubts persisted. She might be a “bloody difficult woman,” but would that, could that, really be enough? Imaginative Tories embraced the idea of a second Thatcher; those who knew her better spoke of a fundamentally unknowable politician. Perhaps there really was nothing there. Journalists complained she was the worst lunch in Westminster.
The vision thing, to say nothing of modern standards of empathy or communication, was an obvious problem. Weaknesses must be redefined as strengths, however. So a lack of flair was to be considered reassuring and May’s duty-burdened provincialism was reckoned a healthy contrast to Cameron’s smooth—and glib—metropolitan demeanour. There was a whiff of Gordon Brown following Tony Blair here; an echo of his “Not flash, just Gordon” slogan.
For a while it seemed to work. But weaknesses cannot be disguised as strengths forever. Sooner or later the truth escapes and, once loose, cannot be re-incarcerated out of sight and mind. The general election proved as much. The prime minister was reduced to the status of a walking platitude. “Brexit means Brexit.” “Strong and stable” government. This was no time for mucking about: “The timetable is clear. We need to be ready. We are.” Oh dear.
Even simple questions were treated as though they were secretly laced with arsenic; the prime minister’s reluctance to speak frankly—or with members of the public—began to look almost pathological, especially after the…