Politics

The Worst Bullshit in Theresa May's Goodbye Speech, Dissected

Her speech unsurprisingly glossed over her incompetence, her outright failures and her more heartless policies.
24 May 2019, 12:03pm
theresa may resignation speech
Theresa May after giving her own eulogy today. Photo:  Leon Neal / Getty Images

Theresa May gave a tearful farewell speech today as she finally, finally, finally, finally admitted defeat, and set her departure date. The speech was a chance to give herself a pat on the back for all her hard work, and point out her many world-shaking achievements. A eulogy you give yourself is always going to be an exercise in self-congratulation, but this one bordered on the absurd, as she polished various policy turds, glossed over failures and pretended that she hasn't spent the last few years making Britain a markedly more toxic place.

Below are some of the real stinkers.

"Back in 2016, we gave the British people a choice. Against all predictions, the British people voted to leave the European Union. I feel as certain today as I did three years ago that, in a democracy, if you give people a choice, you have a duty to implement what they decide. I have done my best to do that."

She basically spent three years trying, and failing, to placate the hard-Brexit head-bangers in her own party. May's Lancaster House speech set out a hard Brexit that pissed off EU diplomats, then she tried to water it down with the Chequers proposal, and that pissed off her own party, who saw it as a betrayal. Overall, a supremely useless attempt at statecraft.

"I negotiated the terms of our exit and a new relationship with our closest neighbours that protects jobs, our security and our Union. I have done everything I can to convince MPs to back that deal. Sadly, I have not been able to do so.

"I tried three times. I believe it was right to persevere, even when the odds against success seemed high."

This is putting it mildly. On her third attempt, May suffered the fourth biggest defeat in Parliamentary history.

Her efforts to woo MPs even involved promising to leave Number 10 if they waved her deal through. They didn’t, and now she’s stepping down anyway.

"For many years, the great humanitarian Sir Nicholas Winton – who saved the lives of hundreds of children by arranging their evacuation from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia through the Kindertransport – was my constituent in Maidenhead.

"At another time of political controversy, a few years before his death, he took me to one side at a local event and gave me a piece of advice.

"He said, 'Never forget that compromise is not a dirty word. Life depends on compromise.'

"He was right."

Pretty crass to use a Kindertransport organiser as a rhetorical prop considering that Britain lags behind in taking in asylum seekers, thanks in no small part to the "hostile environment" for migrants created by Theresa May.

To give just one example of the brutality of this hostile environment, in 2013 her Home Office drew up an "end of life plan" for Isa Muazu, an asylum seeker who went on hunger strike. Rather than believing his claims that he would be murdered by Boko Haram if he returned to Nigeria, his death was essentially accounted for at a ministerial level. Under May's premiership the "hostile environment" became even more pervasive.

But please, tell us more about compromise.

"… the referendum was not just a call to leave the EU but for profound change in our country.

"A call to make the United Kingdom a country that truly works for everyone. I am proud of the progress we have made over the last three years.

"We have completed the work that David Cameron and George Osborne started: the deficit is almost eliminated, our national debt is falling and we are bringing an end to austerity."

The UN special rapporteur on poverty, Philip Alston, compiled a report recently which stated that austerity has caused catastrophic levels of poverty. The report noted that, "For almost one in every two children to be poor in 21st century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one."

In that context, "bringing an end to austerity" is fairly meaningless – the damage has been done, lives have been blighted.

“We have helped more people than ever enjoy the security of a job.”

More from the UN report: "The government has made no secret of its determination to change the value system to focus more on individual responsibility, to place major limits on government support and to pursue a single-minded – and some have claimed simple-minded – focus on getting people into employment at all costs."

In particular, delays for Universal Credit payments push "many who may already be in crisis into debt, rent arrears and serious hardship, requiring them to sacrifice food or heat".

"We are building more homes and helping first-time buyers onto the housing ladder – so young people can enjoy the opportunities their parents did."

In November of 2017, Theresa May made it her "personal mission" to fix the housing crisis. I can’t really remember what that personal mission involved, but I’m sure all the renters out that can agree that she totally nailed it.

In 2018, the number of rough sleepers in the UK rose for the seventh year running. In 2019, that number dipped very slightly, but charities said the root causes remain.

"This is what a decent, moderate and patriotic Conservative Government, on the common ground of British politics, can achieve – even as we tackle the biggest peacetime challenge any government has faced."

Top moderate Theresa May catchphrase? Mine would have to be: "If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere," part of her 2017 conference speech. It’s arguably an anti-Semitic trope, and certainly a horrible thing to say, especially coming from the person who gave us the Windrush scandal.

May spent years re-toxifying the Conservative Party after Cameron’s hug-a-hoddie liberal-toryism. Meanwhile, an Islamophobia scandal in her party has continued basically unchecked.

"Because this country is a Union. Not just a family of four nations. But a union of people – all of us…"

Brexit is boosting Scottish nationalism and breathing new life into Welsh nationalism. Then there’s Northern Ireland…

"Whatever our background, the colour of our skin, or who we love."

Unless you happen to be a Jamaican granny who came to Britain as part of the Windrush generation and has barely left the country since – in which case, under Theresa May’s premiership you may have found yourself tangled up in a nightmarish and callous bureaucracy that was myopically obsessed with reducing the number of migrants, even if those migrants were actually British citizens who have lived here for several decades.

Oh, also LGBT asylum seekers – they’re not part of this happy union of people either.

"I will shortly leave the job that it has been the honour of my life to hold – the second female Prime Minister but certainly not the last.”

Sadly, I don’t think May will be remembered for breaking the glass ceiling.

"I do so with no ill-will, but with enormous and enduring gratitude to have had the opportunity to serve the country I love."

At this point, her voice cracked and she had a small cry, shedding more tears than she has for the many victims of the many social crises she has overseen and, at best, failed to deal with.

@simonchilds13