The best thing that can be said about outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May is that she did not cause irreparable harm to her country or the world. The worst that can be said is that she stubbornly sat by and passively facilitated a phenomenon which caused millions of people to lose faith in a political system built upon Magna Carta, habeas corpus and centuries of evolving parliamentary democracy which ultimately led to universal suffrage.
May is a woman without a legacy. She was stubborn and in the words of longtime Conservative stalwart Kenneth Clarke, she was a ” bloody difficult woman” with no real grasp on foreign policy. And yet in spite of her stubbornness, it was time itself that outdid Theresa May when it came to being intransigent. After she spent the better part of the last six month flogging the dead horse that was her version of a partial Brexit (aka a Brexit in name only – BRINO), May managed to unite left, right and centre against her at a time when uniting anything in Britain is a monumental task.
Theresa May was never one for charisma or big ideas. She was all too happy for the US to dictate Britain’s foreign policy whilst if she had her way, the EU would carry on dictating Britain’s domestic and commercial affairs for decades to come. Perhaps the most interesting element of her political career is that it was ended by the same man who ended that of her predecessor.
It can scarcely be denied that Nigel Farage is the reason that Brexit happened. After Farage spearheaded and ultimately secured the success of the leave campaign in the 2016 Brexit referendum, David Cameron resigned the next morning. Today, even before the results of the EU parliamentary elections are out, May has resigned before facing the likelihood that Nigel Farage’s Brexit party has total destroyed the vote share of her Conservative party.
Although May remains a bland and uninspiring figure, it is actually astounding that she waited this long to resign. After multiple scandals including the notorious and inhumane Windrush disaster, Grenfell tragedy, and multiple terror attacks on UK soil failed to bring down her government and after her total antipathy towards Brexit supporters became a matter of not just personal taste but of policy making, she ought to have gone long ago. Her decision to call a snap election in 2017 proved to be such an arrogant and ultimately poor strategic move for her party that many in hindsight probably wish she had done the dignified thing and resigned two years ago.
But Theresa May held on as though the dignity of leaving office meant far less than the ignominiousness of remaining in an office in spite of maintaining little popularity in her own party and even less in the country as a whole.
Ultimately, as Theresa May left the steps of 10 Downing Street with tears in her eyes, one saw a small glimpse of humanity that was altogether missing from a period in public life in which she earned the title of “Maybot” due to her stiff attempts at dancing and even stiffer attempts at national leadership during a time of historic political change.
It is hard to shed any tears for Theresa May, but with the haunting legacy of Tony Blair still hanging in the ether, it is fair to say that she could have been worse.