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It was with tears in her eyes and the nation watching that Theresa May, our Prime Minister for nearly three years, admitted defeat and resigned. I will not lie and say, as a liberal socialist, that I wasn’t glad to see her go, ask me a few months ago and I’d have been delighted at the prospect; yet to see Mrs May pour her heart to the nation and emphasise she had done all she could, I couldn’t help but feel that she really had and did indeed feel sorry for her. Without doubt, Mrs May has had the most turbulent and hostile term in office since Margaret Thatcher and to see her fully resolute and composed instead of a run-down mess at the end of it speaks in her favour.
May came to power following the gladiatorial tournament and national embarrassment that was the 2016 Conservative leadership contest, the last one standing after numerous back-stabs, controversies and grammar-school bickering. She also inherited an impossible position following the inarguably cowardly move of David Cameron to resign the day after the outcome of the referendum he called for without any contingency plans, exit plans and, let’s face it, no plans at all. From the outset it was clear that May would be the Brexit Prime Minister, the one whose term would be judged by one thing alone and who would have little time for anything else. Her job was to unite a divided country, Parliament, and party behind an exit deal that nearly half the country didn’t want to happen, and then get it agreed by 37 EU nations, all as equally divided in what they wanted.
Despite these odds, May did in fact defy all expectations in actually getting a reasonably good deal agreed with the European Union. Admittedly, it wasn’t perfect and could’ve been a lot better, but it did at least cover the expectations of both sides of the Brexit argument; we would be leaving the EU for the Brexiteers and yet still have strong links with it for the Remainers. And yet, Labour, the Scottish National Party and even her own Conservatives refused to agree to this deal, and it certainly wasn’t for the right reasons. Labour refused to ratify it because, especially under the leadership of the ‘man of the people’ Jeremy Corbyn, they are doing everything they can to trip the government up and call a general election so they have a chance at power; the SNP refused to agree to it because separatist Sturgeon and her cronies are trying their best to annoy Westminster into giving them another independence referendum, and we’ll get on to the Tories later. May was hounded by the press, the people and even the Speaker for presenting her Brexit Bill to the House of Commons three times, each almost identical in contents and results. But that was the deal she had from Brussels, they made clear they wouldn’t change it. So when you’re negotiating with a group who’ve made clear they’re not compromising and the only thing in your way is another group who may possibly change, what else can you do?
Amongst all this mess, May has been battered left, right and centre by crises after crises. Within a year of her coming to power, the UK was hit by three terrorist incidents, the Westminster Bridge attack, the Manchester Arena bombing, and the London Bridge attack. The full scope of the global climate and environmental crisis has been exposed under her term, with London coming to a standstill in April and students striking in March. She is perhaps the most unfortunate Prime Minister in terms of cabinet stability, with no less than 36 members of the cabinet resigning in under three years, though most with Machiavellian intent as I will argue later, provoking more calls of scandal and media bombardment. She also faced, and triumphed, over the first vote of no confidence in a Prime Minister since 1993.
Now, of course, Mrs May was far from a ‘strong and stable’ Prime Minister, she made some pretty hefty and ridiculous mistakes. The call for the ultimately disastrous 2017 general election, that cost her that crucial majority, was both unexpected and unwarranted and led her to the even more absurd decision to ally with the DUP for the small cost of £1 billion, a political and PR catastrophe given their £1 billion price tag and failure to actually ally with her. Her response to the Grenfell Tower fire was a shambles, with government help arriving three days after the incident and Mrs May being publicly ridiculed and held culpable for the incident. Even her mistakes as Home Secretary came back to haunt her as PM in the form of the Windrush Scandal, where thousands of second-generation Caribbean immigrants were told they were not actually British citizens and some even placed in determent centres. As for her dancing, we can all agree the less said the better.
But whilst these disasters were undoubtably the fault of Mrs May, in recent months and especially after her resignation she has been made the culprit of almost every misfortune that has befallen Britain. Food bank usage up, 598 rough sleepers dying last year, four million children in poverty, NHS cuts, it’s all the fault of Mrs May. Except it isn’t. May might be the Prime Minister but it’s the Conservatives who are in power, the inherent inequality of Conservative governments means these abuses would’ve occurred whoever took over in 2016, be they Johnson, Gove or Leadsom. The only difference here is that, like her predecessor Thatcher, Mrs May has been made the arch-scapegoat by both the press and, without question, her own party.
The reasons for this, in my opinion, can be rooted in the single fact that Theresa May is a woman. A woman in power and leader of a party where the majority of members are antiquated tortoises that find this abhorrent. Her treatment by her party in the past few months mirrors that of Thatcher in her later years. Male Conservative Prime Ministers have always resigned of their own accord after disastrous incidents, Eden after Suez, Macmillan after the Profumo Affair, Heath after the 1974 election. Yet both women leaders of the party have been forced to do so, Thatcher after introducing the poll tax and now May over Brexit. Both such exits came about because the misogynistic men at the heart of the party grew tired of suffering the whims of women and took advantage of such events to remove them by force.
This was obvious in the case of Mrs May the moment Boris Johnson left the cabinet, then David Davis, one Conservative grandee after another. You could hear the cogs turning in the backbenches as the hereditary and privileged faction of the party began to plot against her, led by their Machiavellian poster boy Jacob Rees Mogg. Time after time they set up blockade after blockade, slip-up after slip-up; yet Mrs May endured them all, even their attempt to oust her though a vote of no confidence. But the continuation of Brexit negotiations, the prospect of EU elections that Britain should not have taken part in and the resignation of Andrea Leadsom, a key supporter and source of party harmony, were the final straw. It was clear that Mrs May didn’t want to leave, but equally clear that she had no choice; you cannot lead a party that no longer recognises your authority.
Ultimately, Mrs May was not the best of Prime Ministers. Her lack of authority, her lack of change and her lack of perception in public beliefs leaves her with a lot to be desired. But whilst her poor judgement has been displayed in numerous areas, the foremost problem was her party was sick of her and used Brexit as their catapult to demolish her reputation and force her to stand outside Downing Street and tearfully announce her resignation. What will happen after her departure on 7 June we do not know, but the events that have led up to this situation are not the result of Mrs May’s failings, but the hereditary backstabbing and unscrupulous nature of the Conservative Party which she had the great misfortune to lead.