UK set for new PM as Theresa May resigns

End of May: Now there will be a leadership election and a new prime minister. © Getty

She was Britain’s second female prime minister. Some called her difficult. Some called her a ‘Maybot’. Some mocked her refusal to budge. But how will history judge her now she has quit?

She was Britain’s second female prime minister against considerable odds, making the country just the sixth in Europe and the 17th in the world to have had more than one female leader.

She accepted the complaint of the crumpled, jazz-loving, Tory elder statesman, Ken Clark that she was a “bloody difficult woman” and turned it into a badge of honour, often saying that she was proud of it.

As prime minister, she will have done just under three years in the post. That is not a long term compared to the 11 years of Margaret Thatcher, the 10 years of Tony Blair or the six years of David Cameron, but more than some illustrious predecessors like Sir Anthony Eden and Sir Alex Douglas-Home. She will have beaten Gordon Brown by a few days.

She did this despite having type one diabetes, which means self-administering four injections a day and keeping a constant check on her blood sugar levels during a life of back-to-back demands, meals on-the-hoof and meetings.

She loves cooking and claims to own 100 recipe books. She loves walking, and has often been pictured on holiday in Wales with a staff in her hand and her investment manager husband, Philip, by her side. Daughter of a vicar and a devout Anglican, she goes to church on Sundays.

She also likes a dance. On BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 2014, she chose Abba’s Dancing Queen and Walk Like A Man (from the musical Jersey Boys) among her picks, alongside Mozart and Elgar. And she is famous for her love of shoes. As Home Secretary, she was credited with kickstarting a 60% rise in sales of leopard print shoes.

In August last year, an article in The Washington Post described her as the world’s most underrated leader.

The author, Dalibor Rohac, argued that she would go down in history as one of the greatest prime ministers of our time and the epitome of the authentic brand of conservatism — prudent, cautious and incremental — championed by the great political philosopher Michael Oakeshott.

Rohac hailed May’s cautious disposition, which showed what democratic politics is supposed to be like: the art of forging compromises that most people can live with. “The Western world could do a whole lot worse than to emulate that approach.”

As late as November last year, The Financial Times’s Sebastian Payne described her as a “serious leader in an age of pygmies”. She was facing challenges that stretch a leader of the highest calibre, yet she just keeps going. “She is the only grown-up who can guide the country through this traumatic time”.

But, today, the mood has turned grimly against her. Many are saying, this morning, that she has made terrible misjudgements, broken too many promises, lacked basic communication skills, and made desperate and suicidal compromises as failure began to look inevitable.

She has lost the trust of her Cabinet, her party, the Commons and the electorate. The country is barely being governed at all. Westminster is paralysed.

Maybot, maybe?

How will history judge her? The harsh view is captured in the word often used against her, “Maybot”. She often seemed to be devoid of wisdom, wit or warmth, operating mechanically to a predetermined plan, micro-managing and grinding through her work without being remotely aware of the bigger picture.

The kinder view is that she was a fundamentally shy person, who was often awkward in the job. But she was decent, sincere and honest. She was dealt an impossible political hand. Nobody could have done much better in the circumstances. We will come to love our bloody difficult ex-prime minister one day.

You Decide

  1. Should we admire the achievement of anyone who manages to become prime minister?
  2. Did Theresa May do more good than harm?

Activities

  1. Watch the video in Expert Links. Write a letter to Theresa May, saying how you feel about it.
  2. Watch the video from above, but write your own speech, including persuasive techniques. You have five minutes and you are prime minister. You are standing in front of Downing Street and the world’s media awaits…

Some People Say...

“All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.”

Enoch Powell, Tory MP (1950-1974)

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
As we go to press, we only know for certain that more than two senior Cabinet ministers have told the BBC’s political editor that Theresa May will announce the timetable of her departure later today. We know that she will not leave immediately. We know that there will be an election for the Conservative leadership.
What do we not know?
There are a number of matters that we don’t know, but we strongly suspect. We believe that the 10th of June is likely to be the start of the official leadership contest for a new PM. Most ministers say they hope the campaign for the next prime minister can be compressed, so it’s finished by the end of July but there is not yet much clarity about that.

Word Watch

Sir Anthony Eden
Tory Prime Minister (1955-1957).
Sir Alex Douglas-Home
Tory Prime Minister (1963-1964).
Meals on-the-hoof
Eating whilst rushing around doing other things.
Staff
In this context, a walking stick.
Epitome
The perfect example of something.
Michael Oakeshott
Right-leaning, English philosopher and political theorist (1901-1990).
Cabinet
The decision-making body of the Government, that includes the PM and 21 ministers.
Electorate
The voting public.
Westminster
Short for the Palace of Westminster, the location of Parliament in the UK.

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