What will Theresa May be remembered for? Will she be remembered at all? As she prepares to stand down as Conservative leader, we asked some Westminster insiders who worked with or around her – journalists, advisers, researchers, activists, assorted SW1 nerds – to tell us what they make of her time in power. We tried to get a balanced view of her record by talking to people from across the political spectrum but, huh, turns out even most Tories weren’t exactly fond of her.
Anyway, here is what they had to say – anonymously, so they could really go for it.
“Her strategy was to hold the Tory party together long enough to limp to the end of the negotiations, then hope that the ticking clock of Article 50 would mean MPs would vote through whatever she ended up with. Which, it turns out, only works if you've not spent two years telling them that leaving without a deal would be fine.”
“Her unionism is a real thing – and, for all her rhetoric, she was terrified of No Deal because of what it would mean for Scotland and Northern Ireland. It's not clear when the penny dropped for her about the potential toll that No Deal would take on the union, but she was already behaving like it was impossible in mid-2017.”
“Her miscalculation on MPs blinking over her deal (which although far worse than we have now, was the best we would have got outside of accepting the EU's four freedoms) indicated a leader with no understanding of human nature in general, the nature of those humans in particular and perhaps an inability to count.”
ON HER OTHER POLICIES
“She did nothing about 'burning injustices'. I'm a health policy geek, and it was fascinating to come to learn just how little interest this woman who apparently always wanted to be PM had in the NHS, which the British electorate and public love and idolise.”
“When she became PM I was worried because she seemed to be competent but wrong – wrong about immigration, wrong about things like energy price caps and union representatives on boards, and wrong about the supposed need for state-directed industrial policy. Three years later I'm relieved – she's proved to be wrong and incompetent. Her record is dust and we should all be thankful.”
“I’d feel better about Theresa May’s pathetic legacy if she hadn’t caused so much misery to so many people. Whilst her choice to continuously put the Conservative Party before her country when negotiating Brexit has definitely added to the extraordinary stress of working in Westminster over the past two years, this honestly pales in comparison to the stress on our caseload caused by policies that she had direct oversight of.
"Every day, our office work with those tangibly affected by, for instance, the hostile environment policy at the Home Office or cuts to mental health, police or education funding, and I feel pretty ecstatic about the fact that she finally won’t have any say in policy anymore. I know that she’ll ultimately, and deservedly, be defined in history by her atrocious handling of Brexit but I hope with all my heart that she’ll also be remembered as an active participant of the worst of the Tory government’s legacy.”
ON HER AS A PERSON
“In an age where it seems that everyone – especially in politics – is trying to reveal something about themselves all the time, a political leader who doesn’t want to reveal anything ever can seem strangely wise. Except in this case, there wasn’t really anything to reveal. And that became dangerous. In the final weeks of her premiership it was separately briefed that she was reconciled to a no deal Brexit, and also that she had become profoundly opposed to a no deal Brexit. Both were plausible, which is really an appalling failure.”
“She was almost perfectly designed to be the wrong person for the job. Stubborn, secretive and incapable of selling or persuading. Brexit was always going to be a turd. You can't polish turds but you can roll them in glitter.”
“On a personal note she never really knew who she was – was she the anti-immigration right winger and champion of Brexit or was she the moderate former party chair who coined the nasty party phrase? Meant that neither the right nor the left of the party liked her.”
“I like her on a personal level. I disagree pretty much across the board with her at the Home Office; I'm not really libertarian at all but I think the anti-immigration, go-home vans, hostile environment, porn banning, snoopers' charter are all pretty reprehensible. I was looking forward to seeing her spread prime ministerial wings to see if that aspect fell back and she actually did some good, but… nothing happened.”
ON HER LEGACY
“You can probably guess what May’s legacy will be from the total dearth of Tory MPs looking to keep the flame alive once she goes. Whereas a bloc of die-hard Cameroons remained after he’d whistled his last, I would struggle to name a single MP who wants the party to continue anything she started. There is sympathy for her, still some praise for her grit – but nobody is manning the barricades for Mayism.”
“She might have given a good ‘Burning Injustices’ speech but if you still have to point to it three years later in lieu of tangible policy achievements, you’ve failed. An electrifying speech, a botched election, an endless backlog of bills and consultation responses, a Parliament doing nothing, a Brexit her party won’t buy: that’s the legacy.”
“She is, hands-down, the worst prime minister of the post-war era. In thrall both to her batshit-crazy advisors and her own worst instincts, she blew any chance she might have had to pull the country together after Brexit and, in so doing, she also blew any chance she might have had to actually achieve our departure from the EU in good order. And the prolonged agony which resulted from that initial failure meant she achieved zilch, zip, nada on any other front either. I hate to speak ill of the politically dead, but I honestly can't think of a single good word to say about her – and I can't imagine the proverbial 'future historians' will either. She's a void and I'm relieved she's finally agreed to step into it.”
“Theresa May is a pie. Happy to help.”