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.