Who could have foreseen it? Shortly after becoming Prime Minister in July 2016, Theresa May led her party to its highest approval rating since its opposition days, a remarkable 44 per cent. Buoyed by a tremendous speech on the steps of Downing Street promising social justice and an economy for all, the former Home Secretary was destined for great things. She had assumed control of a party of renowned ruthlessness, the same party that ousted Iain Duncan Smith, toppled Thatcher, and overthrew Heath. This was a ruthlessness Theresa May seemed to embody, demanding a meaningful Brexit and ordering her MPs to fall in line.
How long ago it all seems. The Prime Minister has led a government devoid of ideas, bereft of ambition, and wholly lacking in direction and leadership. An unnecessary election, a catastrophic campaign and a lack of contrition made the PM’s position untenable. Yet on she clung, kept afloat only by her party’s fear of a failed Brexit and, more worryingly, Jeremy Corbyn. “Do not rock the boat,” Tories implored their colleagues, “it could be worse.”
Only, for many Conservatives, it couldn’t. After years of austerity-ridden politics, the Prime Minister had an opportunity to set out a grand vision for a Britain outside of the European Union. She could have pledged to maintain close ties with our European counterparts, whose cultures, people and cities we admire and enjoy. She could have backed Britain to look beyond Europe, at the opportunities for collaboration and friendship in Asia, South America and elsewhere. She could have painted a brighter future, one where opportunities are equally accessible to all, regardless of who you are or where you come from. A compassionate, forward-looking, open Britain, out of the EU and into the world.
Prime Minister Theresa May
No such vision emerged. Instead, we have vague platitudes over Brexit, with Angela Merkel mocking May over her inability to set forth any aims or ideals. We have no action whatsoever on social justice, with the entire social mobility commission walking out over a perceived “lack of political leadership.” Elsewhere there is nothing but timidity. In an effort to win over young people, May’s government opted to freeze tuition fees at the astronomical £9,250 rather than address the wider concerns about interest rates over which many students feel exploited. Week after week the public is bombarded with stories of an NHS in crisis, and week after week we hear the same vacuous soundbites of “record investment” and “more than Labour.” You cannot fight an emotional case with a concoction of handily interpreted statistics, but Theresa May knows no different. No wonder Boris Johnson, political ambitions aside, felt it necessary to call for extra healthcare funding publicly, in some last ditch, throwing your gun effort to get Theresa’s attention. Nicholas Soames’ “Dull, dull, dull” could equally be “Useless, useless, useless.”
All we have from the Prime Minister are futile, bit part amendments seemingly designed to keep her in office for one more day. Eighteen months into the job, she has proven herself to be incapable of anything else. In ordinary times, such a state of being would be deeply unsatisfactory. But at such a crucial juncture in the UK’s history, it is unacceptable. The balance has been tipped; no longer is it better to keep quiet under unsatisfactory leadership for the supposed good of the country. More than at any other time since the Second World War, Britain needs capable, decisive, ambitious leadership. Without it, Brexit will fail and the British people will suffer. Rumours of a leadership challenge sweep Westminster, fuelled by a number of Tory grandees publicly speaking out against the Prime Minister’s leadership. A viable challenge is yet to emerge, however. It seems the Conservative Party has lost the ruthlessness for which it is so famed. For the sake of Britain, let’s hope it rediscovers the illusive trait that saw the Party govern for almost half of the 20th Century. Otherwise, prepare for Opposition.