Now that Ms May is gone, political journalists and a collection of prominent Tory MPs and former MPs have written what can best be described as ‘political obituaries’. Their different interpretations are noteworthy, and as they are all paywalled, I am quoting from them at length, for future reference.
First, here are two ‘takes’ from RemainCentral, i.e. The Times. The tone of their editorial underlines their Remain attitude:
“No one need feel too much sympathy for Theresa May. Her career has ended in humiliating failure but that was largely her own fault. The hand she was dealt was undoubtedly difficult but it was not impossible. She put herself forward for the highest office claiming she could deliver Brexit and heal a divided nation. Yet nearly three years later, she was able to achieve neither.
Nor has she done much else. The list of successes to which she laid claim in her resignation statement outside No 10 was conspicuously short of substance, padded out by reviews and inquiries. In truth, she should have resigned weeks or even months ago. It was clear then that she had lost the confidence of the cabinet, parliament and her party and that her Brexit strategy was doomed.
In recent weeks it has appeared that she has been clinging on not out of duty but out of a determination to last longer in Downing Street than Gordon Brown, a vainglorious target that does her no credit.
Mrs May failed partly because she was woefully ill-suited to the job. […] She was unable to build allies in her cabinet, let alone in parliament. Her political strategy relied upon attrition rather than persuasion. Indeed, she seemed incapable or uninterested in winning arguments. Having negotiated her Brexit deal, she made little effort to sell it, choosing instead to try to bully parliament into ratifying the agreement by running down the clock. She made no significant public speeches and took no questions other than those she was obliged to answer in parliament. This she did in a robotic style that served to obfuscate rather than illuminate.” (link, paywalled)
Their damning verdict is:
“Mrs May’s biggest failure, however, was that she refused to be honest with the British public about the inevitable trade-offs required by Brexit. She would never acknowledge the impossibility of reconciling her three Brexit goals of frictionless trade with the EU, no border checks in the Irish Sea and an independent UK trade policy. Nor did she spell out the dangers as she saw them of no-deal, even though she clearly feared them enough to have effectively signed her own political death warrant by delaying Brexit.
Her fatal miscalculation was to believe she could convince hardline Brexiteers in her own party to back her deal without puncturing their illusions about what was achievable. Yet by failing to have the debate with her party, she allowed these illusions to grow. The result is the rise of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, which will have trounced the Tories in the European parliament elections and now poses a threat to its survival.” (link, paywalled)
Daniel Finkelstein damns her with faint praise in his article in The Times:
“In that period she has shown three characteristics of leadership that are highly praiseworthy. She has been realistic, adapting her plans to accommodate European and parliamentary realities. She has been tough, keeping on going even when the problems seem overwhelming and the job thankless. And she has shown a sense of duty, being willing to endure humiliation and attack to do what she feels is the right thing for the country. Yes, it has ended in failure. But that is because the country is deeply split, her party is deeply split and the parliamentary situation deteriorated from forbiddingly difficult to impossible.” (link, paywalled)
“Not her fault then”, one might say, and go on blaming Brexit ….
It is instructive to read Lord Tebbit’s verdict. He’s the epitome of ‘elder statesman’ and ‘grandee’. He knows a thing or two about the Tory Party, about government and about ‘ a female PM’ and his analysis is spot on, in an unexpected way. He writes in the DT:
“At a human level, one could hardly fail to feel sympathy for the Prime Minister as she stood outside the door of No 10 Downing Street today, announcing that she will leave her post on 7 June. Her failure as Prime Minister has not been for lack of effort on her part.
Although not many prime ministers have gone while the voters and their colleagues have been pressing them to stay, her distinction is that almost no one, except perhaps Jeremy Corbyn and Britain’s ill wishers in Brussels, wanted her to continue in office. Conservative Remainers and Leavers alike were united in wanting her out. […]
I concluded some time ago that her troubles and tribulations lay in Mrs May’s lack of understanding of the mechanics of how the British system of government works. Time and time again that led not only to ministers breaching the essential confidentiality of what had been said by whom around the Cabinet table, but they (or “sources close to them”) giving differing self-serving accounts of proceedings.
Of course there have always be disagreements among ministers on the best way to tackle some particular matter. If they could not be resolved around the Cabinet table, however, in the past they would be passed to a Cabinet Committee composed of the ministers concerned (and usually the Treasury) to either resolve them or prepare a paper for the Cabinet to do so. That would from time to time lead to publication of a “Green Paper” for public discussion or a “White Paper” to set out an agreed policy.
Such a formalised structure was intended to avoid the leaking of partial and differing accounts of the issue at stake, and normally did. That convention worked pretty well in Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister […]” (paywalled link)
Indeed – but when the top Mandarin Sir Mark Sedwill himself leaks a ‘Project Fear’ letter to the press in support of ms Mays’ WAB, those conventions have been irreparably breached.
Another Tory Grandee and former Leader of the Tory Party is Iain Duncan Smith MP whose verdict is important because of his presence in the HoC during this whole May debacle which in his opinion started with the 2017 GE:
“It began right back when, despite her assurances to the contrary, she chose to call a General Election in 2017. Unprepared for such a decision, the Conservative Party mounted probably the worst campaign in history and, during the weeks of campaigning, the Prime Minister was exposed to the one problem which hadn’t been tested: that she was not a campaigner. Emerging from that election having lost her majority, with her reputation in tatters, and with her strongly Eurosceptic chief of staff having left her, she made a pledge to her party, that having got them into this mess she would get them out of it.
From that moment on, the direction of the Government on Brexit shifted quite substantially. First was the appointment of her new Chief of Staff, Gavin Barwell. He was a very strong supporter of Remain […]. Also, one can see how the influence of the Civil Service increased dramatically, with Olly Robbins reporting directly to her, cutting out David Davis. Somewhere along the road they convinced her that there was only one way to keep the border open in Northern Ireland and thus the dreadful “backstop” was invented, the issue above all others which was destined to torpedo her deal and finally her premiership. “(paywalled link)
Then Mr Iain Duncan Smith gets personal, which is rather interesting:
“Finally this culminated in the disastrous “deal” announced in December 2017, which to all intents and purposes remains the core of the Withdrawal Act we were about to have put in front of us until the Prime Minister decided to resign. So determined was she that hers was the only way forward that she attempted to bounce her own Cabinet at a meeting in Chequers to accept her deal, plus a facilitated customs arrangement, which even the EU then vetoed as unworkable. Her deal was in effect a lesson in how not to carry out a negotiation, and certainly a lesson in how not to compromise. When I heard about it, I went to see her and told her that the deal wouldn’t go through. Not just because of the backstop but also because in giving the EU a pledge to pay £39 billion we had handed over our most powerful negotiating lever without agreeing a free trade deal. We had accepted the EU’s sequencing of the negotiations, which left us locked into them. Whatever happened to “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”?
I said that she should tell the EU that it was unacceptable and that the UK should leave the table and prepare to leave without a withdrawal agreement. To my surprise she answered that she could only walk away from the table once and that would be kept for the trade negotiations. I was surprised by that answer, but now I look back on what then followed I realise that the deal hadn’t been forced on her: it was what our negotiators had sought, including the backstop. She didn’t want to veto it because it was our deal. Her deal was in effect a lesson in how not to carry out a negotiation, and certainly a lesson in how not to compromise. (paywalled link)
Nigel Farage has this to say, also writing in the DT:
“Tory MPs must take a share of the blame. Those of them who are honest have been asking themselves for months how and why they sanctioned Mrs May becoming their leader in the first place. Without wishing to kick her when she is down, it has always been transparently obvious to anyone with a political brain that Mrs May was never party leadership material and has almost always been out of her depth as prime minister.
Indeed, even in good times she might have been found wanting. Of course, the last three years have been anything but straightforward. But a party which was content in 2016 to appoint the wrong person as its chief ought to ask itself some urgent questions.
Other than having the wrong personality for the job, Mrs May’s principal problem is that she never believed in Brexit. As starting positions go, this made her totally unfit for the task she faced. On top of this, she allowed herself to be dominated by Remainer civil servants who think they know better than the electorate.
This was the toxic background to her dealings with EU bully boys like Jean-Claude Juncker and Michel Barnier, two men whose overriding desire since 2016 has been to reduce the UK to the status of an EU colony. At the same time, sincere colleagues of Mrs May such as David Davis, the Leave-voting former Brexit secretary, were pushed aside. In hindsight, it is remarkable that a figure of his experience was ever permitted to walk off the field before the final whistle.
A further fundamental problem of Mrs May’s time in Downing Street is that she is not a conviction politician. She is the opposite, in fact. A non-conviction politician will always look for some sort of compromise – a bit of this and a bit of that. Yet some things in life things are either black or white. They have no in-between. And Brexit is one of them.” (paywalled link)
Leo McKinstry is a heavyweight amongst political journalists. I am quoting from his coruscating assessment, with apologies for leaving out such other luminaries as Charles Moore because of space constraints:
“Abrasive and reserved, she had none of the qualities expected in a national leader, lacking any natural authority or political convictions of gifts of communication. Indeed, she was not a political heavyweight at all. It was unfairly said of Clement Attlee that he would have been suited to the role of “an official at the East Ham Corporation.” But it could be justly said of May that she should have been a middle manager at the Department of Work and Pensions.
It is fashionable now to say that she inherited from David Cameron an impossible job, but that is more nonsense designed to deflect the blame for her dismal performance. In fact, she came to power in 2016 with a huge amount of goodwill, a workable Commons majority, and united Cabinet. Widely seen as a “safe pair of hands”, she won such an overwhelming majority among MPs in the first stage of the leadership contest that the formality of putting the decision to association members was abandoned.
But as soon as she entered Downing Street, her destructive flaws became obvious. A wooden, nervous performer in public, she established no rapport with colleagues in private. Nor did she display any of her own creativity or originality, becoming excessively reliant on her advisers and civil servants. All this contributed to her disastrous mishandling of Brexit. At a time when a dynamic sense of mission was needed, she became the timid prisoner of the Remainer establishment.” (paywalled link)
He also points to the 2017 GE as the beginning of her downfall, as have the other ‘political obituarists’:
“Throughout the Brexit process, she adopted the wrong approach, whether in allowing the EU to dictate terms in the negotiations or in failing to change course after the Cabinet revolt over Chequers or in refusing to build a Parliamentary cross-party consensus for Brexit until it was far too late. This strain of self-destructive partisanship was seen at its worst when she called the General Election in 2017 in a bid to “crush the saboteurs” of Brexit.
The move backfired catastrophically, in part because of her woefulness as a campaigner. Her manifesto was punitive, her style robotic. As she ran away from debates, Theresa May galvanised Jeremy Corbyn, just as her Brexit failure has turbo-charged Nigel Farage’s party.
May should have resigned immediately after the 2017 calamity. It has been all downhill for her since then, as the Parliamentary arithmetic put her at the mercy of her opponents in Parliament, including the Remainers, the Democratic Unionists and Brexiteer rebels. She has been a permanent hostage of her own making. Only her own monstrous vanity led her to cling on to office long after her premiership had become a humiliating farce.”(paywalled link)
I’ve refrained from quoting all the ‘helpful’ advice these writers have for the next Tory PM, whoever he may be – somehow I don’t think we’ll see a third female Tory PM in the near future.
There are two questions though: why have we let her get away with this for so long – her, her acolytes, her supporters in the MSM? And what are we going to do about it now?