She did it May’s way: The swan song

Goodbye, Mrs May: From Home Sec to Big Boss, May's time in politics has been anything but ordinary. Source: Wikimedia Commons

By Tomos Evans

And with that the song is nearly over. The Prime Minister has decided to call time on her residence at Number 10. The chorus of voices calling for Mrs May to name a date for her departure has rapidly increased over recent days: a crescendo that would inevitably lead to this moment.

When the Prime Minister first entered Number 10, having served as the longest-serving Home Secretary of modern times, she promised to tackle the “burning injustices” in society. However, many of her opponents argue that under her premiership, the gap between the richest and poorest has widened. A report by the Social Metrics Commission published last September has shown that, whilst having decreased following the UK’s recovery from the financial crash, in recent years poverty levels in the UK are once again on the increase.

Another of Theresa May’s pledges was to build more housing in England. According to the Government’s own statistics, in the December quarter of 2018, the number of completed houses in England was 42,970, a one percent increase from the same quarter a year ago. So, whilst this could be seen as one of Theresa May’s biggest successes in government, completions are 11 percent below their highest point in 2007’s March quarter.

However, what has defined this premier’s premiership is Brexit. The Europe question has always plagued the Conservative party, but ever since the referendum, the debate is now playing out in public display. The Withdrawal Agreement and the ill-fated Meaningful Votes resulting in a vote of no confidence in her leadership, which she survived, have dominated the last six months of her premiership. At every change in tempo or tact during the turbulent Brexit negotiations she faced a backlash from her own benches; resulting in resignation after resignation, historic defeat after historic defeat. Most notable, perhaps, was losing her Brexit Secretary, David Davis, and her Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, in the days after the Chequers plan was seemingly agreed, the latter now seen as the front runner in the race to succeed her.

The snap election that the Prime Minister called in a bid to strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations backfired, with the campaign failing to hit the right note with the electorate – her inherited majority lost.

During her three years in post, however, Theresa May steered the country through a number of national tragedies including several terrorist attacks as well as the Grenfell Tower fire. Her resilience was clearly on display, a trait that would come to define her term as PM.

In many ways, the conclusion to the May ministry could be seen as a very poignant one. Brexit, the issue that swept May to power is also now the cause of her downfall. Furthermore, Andrea Leadsom, the candidate who withdrew from the leadership race resulting in a coronation for May was also the final resignation from her government before her announcement. The straw, which many see, as having broken the camel’s back.

It’s hard to believe that three years have passed since Theresa May ascended to power after the 2016 EU referendum. The reality is though, even with May on her way, to quote those immortal words “Nothing has changed”, and nothing will change unless the next Conservative leader will successfully adopt the ensemble approach to unite a divided nation. If not, the parliamentary arithmetic remains unchanged, the negotiations remain just as challenging and the electorate remains as divided as ever.

As May prepares for her curtain call, her legacy will very much depend on whether Brexit is resolved and whether someone else will succeed where she has failed.

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