Theresa May: A year is a long time in politics for our Prime Minister

Posted on Dec 31 2017 - 2:19pm by admin

Theresa MayGETTY

Theresa May has a lot to reflect on after the past turbulent 12 months

A note of caution is needed because a day can now prove a long time in the frenetic world of politics, let alone a week. Even the most fertile thriller writer’s imagination would have been pushed to have scripted the twists and turns of the last year at Westminster, where fact has consistently trumped fiction.

Mrs May could be forgiven for pausing for breath over a small glass of Baileys this festive season to reflect on the past turbulent 12 months.

To sum up – lost Brexit court challenge, triggered EU divorce proceedings, called snap election, social care U-turn debacle, lost parliamentary majority, forced to broker £1billion deal to prop up minority government, bid to jump-start stalled Brexit talks, Tory conference speech fiasco, failed coup attempt, Westminster sex pest scandal, Cabinet resignations, Ulstershaped spanner in Brexit works, defeat by Conservative rebels, EU agrees to talk trade and closest Cabinet ally sacked after computer porn cover-up.

It rates as a full house in political bingo terms – and at the same time, there has been the delicate transatlantic relationship with the White House’s volatile Tweeter-in-chief, which has gone from holding hands to a recent very public tiff.

Mrs May has certainly shown a resilience and steely determination that has surprised her critics

The travails of the Westminster bear pit, however, fade when set against the all too real horror of the deadly terrorist attacks carried out on the streets of Britain and the Grenfell Tower disaster, which saw Mrs May heavily criticised for her response.

Rewind back to January then and the new year saw Mrs May, for the first time following the Brexit vote, spell out her priorities for the divorce talks with Brussels, including ruling out staying in the single market.

However, the Government soon suffered its first setback after the Supreme Court ruled against the Government and said it could not trigger the Article 50 Brexit process without the approval of Parliament.

The Bill got the go-ahead in March but only after a bruising journey through the Lords, with Tory big beast and arch-Europhile Lord Heseltine playing his part.

Then, having insisted she would not call an election, it came as a surprise to many – although not this newspaper – that the following month Mrs May called a snap poll. A healthy double-digit lead over Labour gave rise to talk of a Tory landslide.

However, a poorly fought, negative campaign that saw the PM ridiculed as the “Maybot” for her robotic answers to questions and which also underestimated Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour underdogs, ended in electoral humiliation.

Many saw the tipping point as the high-profile U-turn on social care, the so-called “dementia tax”, while Mrs May insisted “nothing has changed”.

The pledge to hold a free vote on scrapping the fox hunting ban also allowed critics to rekindle the image of the Conservatives as the “nasty party”.

Rather than returning in triumph to Downing Street, the Tory leader was stripped of her majority and forced to do a £1billion trade-off with the 10 Democratic Unionist Party MPs to stay in power.

Down but not out, Mrs May travelled to Florence in September to give a conciliatory speech aimed at reviving the floundering EU talks.

However, her attempts to get her leadership back on track again received a setback at the Conservative Party conference in October, with a calamitous speech to activists.

Struggling with an incessant cough, she was handed a P45 on stage by a prankster and letters fell off the conference stage backdrop behind her.

Theresa May handed a P45 on stageGETTY

Struggling with an incessant cough, Theresa May was handed a P45 on stage by a prankster

It coincided with moves led by former party chairman Grant Shapps to topple her but the coup attempt fizzled out after loyal backbenchers rallied to the support of the PM.

Amid an unfolding sexual harassment scandal at Westminster, Sir Michael Fallon quit as defence secretary in November after admitting his conduct in the past had “fallen below” the standards expected by the UK military.

Just a week later, the Government was hit by a further resignation when Priti Patel stepped down as international development secretary after a row over her unauthorised meetings with Israeli officials.

There was also little cheer on the Brexit front when the PM was left scrambling to salvage an agreement with Brussels to move on to the next stage of talks after it was blocked at the 11th hour by her Northern Irish allies.

The DUP argued the draft deal would stop Northern Ireland leaving the EU on the same terms as the rest of the UK.

However, a flurry of diplomatic activity that saw Mrs May take a predawn flight to Brussels led to a lastminute agreement being reached with the EU, with the promise of no “hard border” with Ireland, citizens’ rights protected and a divorce settlement of up to £39billion.

Sir Michael Fallon quit as defence secretaryGETTY

Sir Michael Fallon quit as defence secretary in November

Her success, however, was marred after she suffered her first humiliating defeat at the hands of Tory rebels in the Commons over demands for MPs to be given a “meaningful” vote on the final Brexit deal.

Nevertheless, EU leaders gave the green-light for talks to move on to the next critical stage, including discussions around the transition deal and the shape of a future trading relationship between the UK and the bloc.

No sooner was one crisis averted than the PM was handed another Christmas gift of controversy that meant sacking her trusted Cabinet ally and effective deputy Damian Green for lying about allegations that porn was found on his office computer in 2008.

Crisis after crisis. So are the Tories finished? Not necessarily. As no less a Labour alumnus than Tony Blair pointed out to his party: “Come on guys, we should be 15, 20 points ahead.”

This was because despite the turmoil of the Conservatives, Jeremy Corbyn has faced problems of his own, particularly his unwillingness to spell out his party’s approach to Brexit.

Jeremy CorbynGETTY

Labour is marginally ahead in the polls since the general election but it has yet to pull away

So while Labour has been marginally ahead in the polls since the general election, it has yet to pull away – and the most recent surveys even gave the Tories the lead.

The coming 12 months are likely to provide no let-up for Mrs May and prove no less uneventful on the political scene as the countdown continuing to the UK’s departure from Brussels.

On top of the divorce talks and moves to push through flagship Brexit legislation, there is also the evergreen politicians’ problem of “events, dear boy, events”, as the one-time British prime minister Harold Macmillan once famously said.

While perhaps not as strong and stable as she might like, Mrs May has certainly shown a resilience and steely determination that has surprised her critics.

Great inventor Thomas Edison was equally undaunted by setbacks and Mrs May could do worse than heed his words: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

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