‘Theresa May is a classic phony Brexiter’
Graffiti of Theresa May in Herne Hill, London
As recently as late April, with the Labour Party in disarray and its leftist leader Jeremy Corbyn deemed unelectable, the polls were putting the Tories twenty points ahead and telling May that her coronation was inevitable. All she had to do was repeat the words “strong and stable” over and over and Labour would be crushed forever. The opposition would be reduced to a token smattering of old socialist cranks and self-evidently traitorous Scots. Britain would become in effect a one-party Tory state. An overawed Europe would bow before this display of British staunchness and concede a Brexit deal in which supplies of cake would be infinitely renewed.
The Tories tried to build a personality cult around a woman who doesn’t have much of a personality. May is a common or garden Home Counties conservative politician. Her stock in trade is prudence, caution, and stubbornness. The vicar’s daughter was woefully miscast as the Robespierre of the Brexit revolution, the embodiment of the British popular will sending saboteurs to the guillotine. She is awkward, wooden, and, as it turned out, prone to panic and indecision under pressure.
But to be fair to May, her wavering embodied a much deeper set of contradictions. Those words she repeated so robotically, “strong and stable,” would ring just as hollow in the mouth of any other Conservative politician. This is a party that has plunged its country into an existential crisis because it was too weak to stand up to a minority of nationalist zealots and tabloid press barons. It is as strong as a jellyfish and as stable as a flea.