May: A Complicated Legacy? | Sarah Stook

Theresa May’s press conference on the 21st May 2019 was unlike any other. As she pressed for Withdrawal Vote 4, she must have known the barrage of criticism that would come out as soon as she opened her mouth. When questioned by journalists, the normally calm Prime Minister seemed oddly angry, making barbed comments and constantly referring to her previous statements. She looked defeated.

It was said that David Cameron knew the jig was up at about 3AM on the 24th June 2016, the day after the referendum. He was apparently quiet and calm about the situation, even though he’d publically announced he’d be staying on whatever happened, he knew that he would resign if Leave won. Of course, nobody expected that result. That was Cameron’s moment, the moment he knew that his premiership was over and that he had no mandate. One can imagine he cried behind closed doors, as his voice shook outside of Number 10, but it was a moment of calm for him in the initial stage- despite the surprise of it all.

Margaret Thatcher wept at the perceived betrayal that led to her ousting. Richard Nixon threw his arms in the air in a triumphant wave as he took his last journey on Marine One.  Tony Blair had planned for his in the infamous ‘Blair-Brown deal.’

May has known she’s on borrowed time for while, considering that she has started to set out a timetable for her departure- though she is clearly dragging her feet. It’s likely she’ll be out by the end of the year- she’ll probably stay as an MP until the next election then retire into some lucrative business venture. That is when the historians will start writing about her. Legacies, especially of elected officials, are often very subjective, usually dependent on the political leanings of those attempting to craft said legacy. There are few leaders, very few, who will receive near universal acclaim. Those leaders tend to be of an age gone by, warriors whose actions are less documented by contemporary history and who were fighting against a very definitive evil. May will be a victim of a historical perspective.

So what will that perspective be exactly?

For a start, she’ll be the woman who fudged up Brexit. Now, that will not be title that would only be credited to her, because anyone who took Conservative leader in 2016 would have had to handle everything that came with withdrawing from the European Union. No person handling the Brexit negotiations would receive unanimous praise- they’d be too soft for some, too hard for others, and that’s just the Brexiters. You have new converts, people who have gone to Remain and those who think the idea of Brexit is just bananas. May, however, seems to have alienated nearly everyone. She headed to the EU with David Davis at her side, fire trailing her, but that seemed to fizzle out pretty quickly. Every suggestion she has seems to have a majority against her. Her Withdrawal Agreements have been consistently defeated, pieces of legislation have been victims of the largest defeats in Parliamentary history and her government was deemed to be in contempt of parliament.

Still, May has been dragging her feet on the issue. Often derogatorily called ‘Theresa the Appeaser,’ she has tried everything to hold it together. Unfortunately, Brexiters find her to be too soft and many Remainers are put off by her initial talk against a Customs Union or second referendum. Apart from her boot licking Ministers and dedicated grassroots, she’s not done too well.

Also, what has her policy been outside of Brexit? Yes, such a thing exists, even though leaving the EU has basically dominated both May’s foreign and domestic agenda. Margaret Thatcher implanted right-to-buy and spearheaded privatisation. John Major (unintentionally) kept us out of the Euro and negotiated Maastricht.  David Cameron brought same-sex marriage to legality and economic austerity. May, unfortunately, has not given us anything.

Policies that fall under healthcare or environmentalism are not May’s creations. She is not the policy wonk that others are, even though she seemed to have lots of it during her tenure in the Home Office. A woman who apparently thrives on big government, she has shown herself to be the one to return to authoritarianism. Her administration will be remembered as the one who banned fun, threw taxes on everything and implemented a very controversial bill regarding internet porn (one that was full of holes nonetheless). To the liberty lovers and children of Thatcher, she is no friend.

We really should have seen that coming, considering in another life she is the stern headmistress at a girls’ boarding school in Surrey.

The slogan during the 2017 General Election was ‘strong and stable.’ The definition of strength will no doubt be hotly contested, but she was not a woman who had stability in her reign. May has seen a number of her ministers’ resign, her backbenchers increasingly hostile and a grassroots who plainly hate her guts. She is not the woman whose policies will define her- only her controversial Home Office strategies live in the memories of most. Like all, Theresa May will one day leave political office, though it’s arguable that she is the one who is dragging it out the most.

Realistically, Labour should be absolutely decimating them in the polls. If the Opposition was actually decent, they would have likely won the 2017 election and done well in subsequent elections. The 2019 locals saw the Conservatives get a massive bruising, even more than expecting. Labour lost a lot, even though they’d expected to gain. Instead, minor parties and independents made gains where others lost. Though the coming EU election and results have not happened yet, it is extremely likely that the Brexit Party will make huge gains, mainly at the Tories’ expense- a mirror to 2014 when UKIP surged to first place. Yes, the governing party usually has losses, but this is beyond expectations- David Cameron somehow managed to win 2015 whilst Margaret Thatcher won three elections on the trot despite major opposition.

May knows that it’s nearly time for her to leave. Even if she hadn’t been sensible enough to start setting a date, she must know that things are not going well for her. Her legacy will not be kind towards her- history is written by the victors, something that she cannot claim to be.



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