History will not be kind to Theresa May
OK, I’m slightly late writing this, but my excuse is that I think it’s a good idea to let a bit of dust settle before commenting on something as significant as a prime ministerial resignation.
History will not be kind to Theresa May. In many respects her premiership is likely to become a case study for political science students, and not in a good way.
The images that come to mind for me are a succession of lectern appearances where she addressed difficult issues and did it poorly. It was as if leadership was something she had once looked up in a book and applied the bits she could remember off-hand.
Her stint in the Home Office gave her the reputation of someone who knew her own mind (or maybe just “bloody difficult” as veteran tory Kenneth Clark observed) but you also felt that she was overly prone to acting on the advice of the last person she had spoken with.
The book “Betting the House” – a behind-the-scenes look at the 2017 election - shared fascinating insights as to how May's first stab at conciliation was a hotch-potch cabinet thoroughly riven by factions yet united in the aim of wanting rid of her hapless policy advisers. When they left, any remnant of realistic political insights went with them.
For all the allegations of serial failure and vacillation in the face of revolt, the hard truth is that she was basically ill-equipped to handle the awful Brexit legacy left her by David Cameron. It was to shape and ultimately cripple her premiership more than anything else.
A Remainer both by instinct and conviction, she repeatedly tried to cast herself in the role of someone who wanted to keep faith with the people whilst also wanting to protect them from themselves. She never achieved that aim, despite a series of stubborn attempts.
This may in part be attributed to how, regardless of the Bouddica-like posturing she offered to her dwindling band of supporters, there were several crucial occasions when she was inextricably listed as missing in action from the front bench.
In a brief career at the top, punctuated by often cringe-worthy key announcements made on those Downing Street steps, her own sad legacy is that her last speech was delivered to a nation that was no longer really listening.
That same indifference is a fitting backdrop to the chaotic jostling among potential replacements. It has to be said that despite the prolific number a candidates, the options are depressingly bleak.
The danger for the Conservatives is that renewed desperation to out-do Farage could lead them to repeat past mistakes and confuse the last person standing with the best one for the job. There are too many factions and too many tripwires involved.
I heard one commentator remark recently that single-minded Theresa May had turned out to have been a new kind of problem rather than a solution. That might be harsh but it underpins a very basic question, namely; how do find a compromise candidate to lead a party so unwilling to compromise? The dramatic results of the EU elections signal a challenge to mainstream parties. Even so, it could be misguided to extrapolate the figures into a Westminster model and expect the same outcome in a general election. That’s something that UKIP found out to their cost. The marginal constituencies remain the place where power is gained or lost and it there is nothing definitive to draw upon. That’s something Mrs May’s successor will probably bank on for a while – or at least until October.