It is May's decisions in Number 10 that ultimately led to her downfall. But her political problems are ones shared by the Conservative Party—and the wider British rightby Chaminda Jayanetti / May 24, 2019 / Leave a comment
Theresa May failed. She failed to unite her party or the country. She failed to convince new voters or old ones. She failed to plot a viable path for Brexit, failed to set out the necessary compromises when she had the chance, failed to win the argument when she finally did so, failed to crack the whip with her cabinet or her restive backbenchers. She failed to reach out to Labour backbenchers until it was too late.
She failed to do much more than talk about ‘burning injustices’, a topic that seemed to interest her most when she was thinking of her legacy. She failed to be less of a failure than her catastrophic predecessor—under whom her only success as Home Secretary was hiding her failings from view until she’d left the crime scene. Given the context of her arrival at Number 10, failure was always a possibility, maybe a probability—but her failings made it a certainty.
But Theresa May’s failings are not hers alone. Her failure is intertwined with the failures of the Conservative Party and the broader political right.
It is worth recalling that for her first ten months as leader, May’s approval ratings were high. Her honeymoon period wasn’t simply the goodwill accorded to new incumbents. It was a combination of her embodiment of a ‘serious’ approach to politics that stood in contrast to David Cameron’s breezy game-playing, a willingness among most voters to accept Brexit, and her stated desire to move beyond harsh austerity towards a more emollient approach towards some of those suffering under its weight. It also helped that she wasn’t Jeremy Corbyn, at that stage both under attack and out of his depth as leader of the opposition.
What went wrong was a three-way collision between May, the Tories, and reality.
The Leave campaign’s referendum victory was built on immigration. Brexit revisionists like to downplay this now, either because—like Vote Leave strategist Dominic Cummings—they consider themselves above such dog whistles, or—like Nigel Farage—they see little use now in demanding measures that May has already promised.
But during the referendum campaign, both Leave.EU and Vote Leave relentlessly focused on immigration, constructing endless scares and smears about Turkish membership and Syrian refugees. Cummings claimed that staying in…