In Parliament on Wednesday one of her colleagues/opponents, Jacob Rees Mogg, asked a devastatingly polite question: “In proposing this folderol is [May] going through the motions or does she really believe in it?”
May laughed indignantly. “I do not think I would have been standing here at the Dispatch Box and have been in receipt of some of the comments that I have been in receipt of, from colleagues on my side and across the House, if I did not believe in what I was doing. I’m doing it because I genuinely believe it’s in the national interest.”
And that was both May’s biggest asset and her downfall.
Unlike many politicians she did not appear to seek power for power’s sake. She was programmed with a devotion to public service. She had one aim: deliver Brexit. And she doggedly set about trying to achieve it.
But this moment needed a politician more than a civil servant.
It needed someone with charm, vicious authority, and negotiating flair to pull together a never-more-divided nation.
May was not that person.
May’s tumultuous time in office
- July 13, 2016: In her first speech as Prime Minister, May appears in Downing Street, pledging to fight the “burning injustices” that hold people back. She promises “a country that works for everyone” but will in fact find herself spending much of her time dealing with Brexit.
- Jan 18, 2017: A triumphant May is portrayed on the front page of the Daily Mail next to the headline “Steel of the New Iron Lady”. She has just given a defiant speech, telling Brussels: “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.”
- May 22, 2017: May is forced to backtrack on an election pledge to force the elderly to pay more for care after her opinion poll lead halved. “Nothing has changed,” she says to general incredulity.
- June 4, 2017: Responding to Britain’s third militant attack in three months – the killing of seven people on and near London Bridge – May declared “enough is enough” and added: “Defeating this ideology is one of the great challenges of our time.”
- June 8, 2017: Despite an apparently impregnable opinion poll lead, May loses her parliamentary majority in a general election called early. Despite repeated promises of a “strong and stable” government, her authority is left in tatters.
- Oct 3, 2017: May’s keynote speech to the Conservative Party conference was interrupted by repeated coughing fits, a prankster, and even letters of her slogan falling off the stage scenery. As a bid to reassert her dwindling authority, it had limited success.
- Oct 3, 2018: May startles the audience at the Conservative Party’s annual conference when she appears on stage for a speech dancing to Abba’s Dancing Queen. It was apparently a self-deprecating reference to her dancing during a recent visit to Africa, but she was nonetheless widely mocked.
- Dec 14, 2018: A furious May is embroiled in a public row with Jean-Claude Juncker at a Brussels summit after the EU chief publicly called Britain’s Brexit demands “nebulous” and “vague”. Juncker joked that they had later kissed and made up, but the incident showed that relations were far from optimal.
- Dec 17, 2018: At an EU summit in Salzburg, an unforgiving photo shows a red-jacketed May cold-shouldered by a phalanx of male leaders in dark suits.
- Jan 19, 2019: Politicians defeat May’s Brexit divorce deal by the crushing margin of 432 to 202, the worst such defeat in modern British history. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn calls a vote of no confidence, which May however survives.
- May 21, 2019: In a last roll of the dice, May promises a “new deal” on Brexit. It is immediately rejected by large numbers of Conservative MPs and the opposition Labour Party.
- May 24, 2019: She announces she will resign as Prime Minister on June 7.