Will Theresa May go down as UK's worst Prime Minister?

SHE took over the helm when the country was facing its worst crisis for decades, but failed to resolve it and is now being forced to make way for someone almost guaranteed to make the situation worse.

Monday, 22nd July 2019, 2:57 pm
Updated Monday, 22nd July 2019, 3:57 pm
Theresa May has been prime minister for three years.

As Theresa May prepares to bow out as Prime Minister tomorrow, handing over the keys of Number Ten to a new Tory leader - everyone assumes it will be Boris Johnson - how will history judge her?

Many might initially have been surprised at her inclusion in the list of potential successors when David Cameron quit after the Bexit vote, but it showed her ambition.

Having avoided any prominent part in the Remain campaign during the 2016 EU referendum, Mrs May thought she was well placed to win the party leadership and unite the pro- and anti-Brexit factions. As other candidates fell by the wayside, her path to Downing Street became a coronation rather than a contest.

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The UK’s second female prime minister was portrayed as a sensible, no-nonsense figure and sought to turn Ken Clarke’s criticism of her as “a bloody difficult woman” to her own advantage.

But when she decided after Easter 2017 to call a snap general election in the hope of boosting her narrow Commons majority, everything went wrong. She ran a dreadful campaign, refusing TV debates, avoiding interviews and launching a policy on social care which would hit the Tories’ key voters.

And despite a massive poll lead at the start of the campaign, Mrs May saw the Tory majority disappear as Labour under Jeremy Corbyn performed far better than expected.

Facing Brexit negotiations with no majority rather than a narrow one, she turned to the hardline DUP for a deal to prop up her government. And she focused on trying to win over the extreme Brexiteers in her own party rather than seeking any kind of consensus with opposition politicians for a more moderate way forward.

The EU found the UK’s approach to Brexit negotiations exasperating but Mrs May’s biggest problem was trying to win support for her deal in the Commons - and she never made it.

Everyone agrees she worked hard, had a clear sense of duty and showed determination - some would say it was more stubbornness - but diligence and doggedness are not the prime virtues required for political leadership.

Mrs May wanted to be the prime minister who delivered Brexit, but she also wanted to be remembered for more than that.

In her speech in Downing Street at the start of her premiership, she spoke out about the “burning injustice” of poverty, discrimination and inequality, but then did little to tackle it. Instead child poverty increased, the housing crisis worsened and the roll-out of Universal Credit continued to cause serious hardship.

Her wooden response to the horrific Grenfell fire and the appalling injustice of the Windrush scandal suggested a prime minister without the human touch.

And her record as Home Secretary, promoting a “hostile environment” for immigrants and overseeing the “Go Home” vans served as an ever-present backdrop reinforcing that view.

Her shortcomings raise the question how she ever reached such high political office at all.

Will she be rated Britain’s worst prime minister? Perhaps for the meantime - but circumstances due to unfold very shortly may soon produce a strong rival for that title.