Theresa May’s big speech showcased her weaknesses as PM

by David Talbot

When the new Prime Minister ascended to the highest office by default during last year’s tumultuous summer, her quiet authority seemingly reassured a buffeted nation. Whilst knowledge of her ideology, policy and vision for Britain was lacking, the assumption that she was competent, who, after all, survives six gruelling years in the Home Office without it, was overwhelming.

A carefully fostered reputation for toughness and competence emanated. But now, seven months on, the narrative needs to be revised and rewritten to reflect her record to date. The evidence for all the initial gushing was all rather thin: truth be told, her party, let alone the nation, hardly knew May. Her no-small-talk, reveal-nothing aloofness left a void in which anyone could characterise her as they chose.

Her speech at Lancaster House yesterday was due in part to quell the criticism that had amassed over her continued vow of silence over the most pressing political concern the nation will face in a generation. The Prime Minister’s twelve pillars, we were told, would detail her vision for a post Brexit Britain. Having obfuscated for months – beyond the meaningless regurgitation of “Brexit means Brexit” – May at last delivered a prolonged response to what the vote last June would actually mean in the years ahead.

Delivering a veiled threat to European allies, offering her first pillar as ‘providing greater clarity’, confirming years of angst for UK business with the long-expected withdrawal from the single market and customs union, whilst her Ministers travel the globe in search of fantasy free market trade deals, hardly screamed of a Prime Minster well ahead of events. Details were left for another day. By trying to simultaneously avoid spelling out her Brexit intentions and please her hard-line Brexiteers, May has chosen the riskiest course of all.

With her vain attempt to keep the nation in a policy vacuum, the image of mature, calm capability that was bestowed upon her when she became Prime Minister seems less and less deserved. Post referendum, it is as if her historic tenure in the Home Office has been all but forgotten. But longevity is hardly an indicator of success. From the absurd vans carrying billboards, to cack-handed police reform, chaotic border control, controversy, ineptitude and criminality over the Yarl’s Wood detention centre, Afghan interpreters and the European Arrest Warrant – May was hopelessly ineffectual in just about every criteria of her then remit. And on migration, a flagship policy pledge of the Cameron government in which she served, May missed every target she ever set herself. The only remarkable aspect of all this is that as the Cabinet member responsible, May faced remarkably little criticism or scrutiny as to why it had failed.

Sitting in the front row of the Prime Minister’s speech was Sir Tim Barrow. An aspect of his predecessor’s abrupt departure was that he was by no means the only one to feel the wrath of the government’s displeasure. Others have been targeted, including the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, whilst Ministers, such as Lord O’Neill, who left his post in the Treasury just two months into May’s administration, the civil service and companies, such as Deloitte, have all been subjected to thinly veiled surveillance, threats or indeed the sack.

And then there is the behaviour of her fabled inner circle; all the most important decisions are taken by the “chiefs”, who alone enjoy unfettered access to the Prime Minister. Defying their will, or even being perceived to have done so, will incur a black mark not easy to erase – just ask Nicky Morgan. It is a tendency for secrecy by clique.

With a Labour party visibly disintegrating before the electorate’s eyes, all this may not matter a jot. May enjoys a commanding position in the polls and leads a cataclysmic Jeremy Corbyn in every region of the country, in every demographic and on every measure of delivering Brexit. But the fundamentals of politics rarely change; that May had to deliver such a speech was a tacit admission of failure.

Far from the quiet authority that was originally perceived, May’s government increasingly encapsulates at times wild paranoia, poor party management, a lack of preparedness and no overarching vision beyond delivering a hard-edged Brexit. None of this plays to her original perceived strengths. This, from a Prime Minister who has hegemony within her sights, would be the height of incompetence.

David Talbot is a political consultant

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5 Responses to “Theresa May’s big speech showcased her weaknesses as PM”

  1. John P Reid says:

    I think my search engine has confused this page qoththe Daily mash,or the canary

  2. Alf says:

    Why did May have to do her speech wearing a clown outfit?

  3. Tafia says:

    You may well consider her speech weak, but she is immensely stronger than anything Labour considers a big hitter (Starmer, Umanna, Cooper, Burnham etc)

  4. wg says:

    “David Talbot is a political consultant” – ’nuff said.

    It is very noticeable how many of my acquaintances were quite taken with Ms May’s performance.

    I regret to say that Ms May is reaching parts of the electorate that Labour can only dream of reaching at present.

    But, she can get away with anything at the moment I’m afraid – to most people outside the bubble, there really is no alternative.

  5. John P Reid says:

    Alf remember the days when Asiane Abbott would get up on stage with balaclava wearing IRA members,maybe she could have done that

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