Theresa May will not be remembered for her achievementsAron Urb/Flickr

Despite the tearful announcement of her intention to resign as Prime Minister on the 7th June, Theresa May deserves no pity: her entire sorry predicament is due to no one but herself. Upon ascending to the pinnacle of British politics after a coronation by the Conservative Party, Theresa May faced a country fraught with challenges, yet May herself was in an excellent position politically: with a Commons majority and an outpouring of goodwill with high personal ratings, she had the ideal opportunity for any politician seeking to make significant and lasting changes that would put their name in the history books.

But Theresa May will not be remembered for her achievements. I cannot think of any, and neither could she in her departing salvo. Instead, self-inflicted calamity – compounded by delay and filibustering when faced with difficult issues – concealed in a coat of tough-talk will be etched into the memory of her premiership.

The Britain May inherited from David Cameron was deeply divided by age cohort, economic status, region and social values, having been pummelled by six years of public service cuts and wage stagnation. Furthermore, the country was, constitutionally, very fragile. A divisive referendum on Scottish independence in 2014 was followed immediately by Cameron’s slapdash approach to the complex problem of the West Lothian, or the English, question. The collapse of the power sharing executive in Northern Ireland raised serious questions about the future direction of the peace process, and the biggest concern of all was what a vote to Leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum actually meant and what the UK’s new relationship with the EU would be.

Prime Ministers are seldom defined by the circumstances they inherit but rather by what they leave behind

However, Prime Ministers are seldom defined by the circumstances they inherit but rather by what they leave behind. David Cameron was able to defeat Ed Miliband’s Labour Party in 2015 largely by exaggerating the extent of the country’s economic recovery through reference to the fiscal position in 2010. Infamously, he waved around a note on stage during a Question Time special, written by former Labour DWP Secretary, Liam Byrne, saying: ‘Sorry, there is no money left!’ May, though, cannot perform this same trick: the same circumstances and the same societal divisions that led to the Brexit vote, the “burning injustices” she said would be her government’s mission to address, have not gone away but have, if anything, worsened.

The list of Theresa May’s failings is long. The decision to delay triggering Article 50 to the 29th March 2017 allowed nearly a year to define Britain’s negotiating strategy, yet even now it is unclear what the UK’s position was or is. Infamously, May opportunistically called a general election and then ran a presidential-style campaign where Conservative Parliamentary candidates were rebranded as ‘Theresa May’s Team’. May simply did not have the charisma to succeed in such a campaign. The loss of the Tories Commons majority not only forced her to hand over £1 billion to the DUP to save her government, but also left her personal authority hanging by a shoestring.

Even after that disastrous election, the failings kept coming. Her response to the Grenfell Tower disaster was seen as aloof, only meeting survivors following intense media pressure. She added a perception of cowardice to this increasingly toxic mix of character traits by allowing Amber Rudd to take the blame for her actions as Home Secretary, that led to the Windrush Scandal.

May prioritised her own premiership above all else

Her most serious failing though was that after the rejection of her withdrawal agreement by 230 votes, the biggest defeat for a government bill in UK parliamentary history, May prioritised her own premiership above all else. By thinking she could bully Parliament into passing her deal, she in fact wasted precious time lying low in the Downing Street Bunker whilst the country faced the looming threat of a No Deal Brexit - a threat which is still lying dormant and will re-emerge later this year to make for a particularly frightening Halloween.

Given this continued litany of failure, the only possible way of salvaging something of a legacy for Theresa May and her Conservative allies has been to try and shift the blame. Indeed, this is exactly what May and her loyalists have done. After the first failure of the withdrawal agreement, the EU negotiators were blamed for refusing to make the Northern Ireland backstop a temporary rather than a permanent arrangement, despite the UK requesting this arrangement during the negotiations in order to avoid a hard border in Ireland. Her own MPs were next on the blame list, specifically those members of the European Research Group who voted against the withdrawal agreement.


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Finally, after a seven hour cabinet meeting in which the only decision reached was to politely ask Jeremy Corbyn to rescue her, the Labour Party felt the wrath for the sorry position May was in. The following six weeks of desperately last-minute, cross-party negotiation was May’s last chance of achieving her government’s one policy, its only purpose. Considering that the negotiations had been a risk for Corbyn, with loud calls in the Labour Party for him to leave May to her fate, it is hard not to conclude that she let this last chance slip-away.

Seeking achievements worthy of a legacy for her statement announcing her intended departure, May could only mention compromise not being a dirty word and highlight that she was the UK’s second female prime minister. Whilst the first point was ironic to say the least, the fact that she is a woman should endear a collective shrug of the shoulders. The sheer vacuity of the statement, intended to summarise three years of government, was brutal. The contents of it though, or absence thereof, have been entirely her own doing. It is no wonder Theresa May departed in tears, but there is no reason to share them with her.

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