She walked through the door of No.10 Downing Street brimming with the promise of a new dawn in British politics. Before her stood the Brexit mountain, and she would scale it using the pickaxes of ‘strong and stable’. This self-confessed “difficult woman” headed into negotiations with the EU with an expectation befitting Churchill. Her red lines were set, her cards held tightly to her chest. And then it all started to fall apart.
As in most games of poker, Theresa May has been dealt hand after hand, which has been seemingly cursed. She has gone bust almost at every turn. But now the game has ended. And as she officially resigned from her position as Leader of the Conservative Party and as Prime Minister, the question has quickly become about her legacy and Theresa May’s place in political history.
It would only be fair to acknowledge that Mrs May entered her premiership with an almighty task. She inherited a divided country, a Westminster on the verge of a meltdown and a British public constantly turning away from the politics of old. Her predecessor, David Cameron, had called the controversial EU referendum, and Theresa May had backed the losing side.
No one had expected the British electorate to vote to leave the European Union. It was a decision which sent a tsunami of shock across the globe. But from the word go, Mrs May faced a simple question which would haunt her time in office – could a Remainer lead Britain out of the EU?
We now have an answer, one which even Theresa May couldn’t eventually ignore as she prepares to pack her bags and walk away from that iconic black door, with Brexit still looming overhead.
But how did it all come crashing down? The truth is, our house-sitting Prime Minister never fully believed in the cause of Brexit. Yes, she structured a deal that she thought delivered on the vote of 2016, but in essence, it was more of the same. A status quo which the electorate fiercely rejected. She also took her eyes of the ball. Her failure to understand that most of the British electorate demanded the Brexit they voted for, and their protestations when it began to evade their grasp, was the typical ostrich-head-in-the-sand scenario.
Not all has been bad, her actions after the Novichok chemical attack in Salisbury was praised and highlighted the weaknesses of Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn. And at the start of the Brexit process her plan was a relief for Leave voters. But after three years that has all been pushed to the wayside.
Theresa May’s legacy won’t be as she had hoped, and I would argue for any public figure, good or bad, to fail to be remembered for anything is the worst. For Mrs May, it’s hard to not see this being her fate.
She failed to deliver Brexit – the singular promise she made constantly throughout her premiership. She called a highly damaging snap-election resulting in her party losing their vital majority. She has resigned the Conservative Party to the edge of oblivion, paving the way for a new party – The Brexit Party – to dominate the Tory base. She has potentially ensured the reality of Jeremy Corbyn walking through the doors of 10 Downing Street more than ever. But all that damage will fade with time. When and if Brexit is delivered Theresa May’s legacy will be non-existent. She won’t bask in the same adulation her female counterpart, Margaret Thatcher is amongst the Tory loyalists. She will physically, figuratively and politically vanish.
It could have all been different though. Her time in office could have secured her name in the history books as more than the just the Prime Minister who tried and failed to deliver the biggest democratic vote in British history. But she didn’t and therefore she won’t be. Instead the British public will move on, and the three years of when she called that famous street her home will carry on as if she was never there. It may sound cruel, but thus is politics.
The truth is Theresa May never really had the personality for the “top job”. She wasn’t really built for the Prime Ministerial role. Critics would call her “Maybot” for her lack of charisma. And whilst not every politician is blessed with these types of attributes, many overlook just how important they are.
It’s not as if we haven’t seen her try to be. Afterall, who can forget her entrance to the Conservative Party Conference last year. Waltzing onto the stage to ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’, the footage caused a mountain of memes and jokes, but it was refreshing to see the Prime Minister let loose. We should have seen more of it.
The sad truth is, for Theresa May’s predecessor the expectation bar is set lower than ever before. It won’t take much to outshine her premiership and especially if they deliver on the poisoned chalice of Brexit. Afterall, decades from now when future generations open the history books of politics, who will they learn about? The Prime Minister who failed to deliver a promised Brexit, or the one who did?
Theresa May was a victim of her own ambition. She desperately tried to please everyone all the time, and it has always been a tact that is doomed with failure.
But none of it matters now. Mrs May is emblematically out the door and now we wait to see who will replace her. Before we do, in the coming days Britain will judge her time in office, and you can hear the collective sigh throughout the land. Is she the worst Prime Minister ever? Maybe. And considering who has come before her, that’s a title no politician hopes for.
Either way Theresa May has failed in her undertaking of “Brexit means Brexit”, “strong and stable” leadership and all the other slogans she has repeated time and time again. For three years she sat at the poker table playing hand after hand hoping for a set of straight aces. Instead she was dealt a pack of jokers that will come to taint her legacy forever.