I try not to make big political predictions. I’ve done it before and, like most political predictions, they turned out to be quite wrong.
A lot of commentators have been predicting the downfall of Theresa May for some time. Each resignation from the Cabinet has fuelled speculation that the next one will be hers. Numerous polls taken within and without the Conservative Party suggest that other candidates would be more popular leaders. All of us, especially the DUP, remember what happened in June 2017. Yet she has remained a resident of Downing Street despite such terrible setbacks.
The finale to May’s premiership is this time expected to be the failure to secure an endorsement for her Brexit deal from Members of Parliament. The deal has frustrated just about everyone, from Remainers to Leavers, Labour members to Conservatives, capitalists to socialists, young to old.
May’s deal was expected to die a death in the Commons last Tuesday before it was delayed until January. Most people think that May was prolonging her inevitable political demise, but I remain sceptical of whether the deal will be so soundly rebuked by MPs. After all, Conservatives no doubt realise that making May resign will mean the country has to find a new Prime Minister post haste: that might backfire for the Conservatives if that’s Jeremy Corbyn. Perhaps more Conservatives will hold their noses and vote for May’s deal... but, here I go again, straying into prediction territory.
Repeated blunders, embarrassments and even defeats in parliament have led many commentators to brand Theresa May the weakest, most terrible prime minister in modern British political history. Granted, the tremendous impact of Brexit on the country, particularly how far it will influence the working lives of young people such as me, mean we have to subject the Brexit-makers’ actions to our utmost scrutiny.
But it is because Brexit is so defining a political moment in history that I hesitate to join in with the despairing descriptions of May as our “worst leader ever.” To be clear, I can’t - and won’t - defend the Government’s record of negotiating a deal with the European Union; and I cannot support the Government’s approach to austerity, social care, education and the National Health Service. But I also refuse to let myself forget that Theresa May and her team face the greatest political challenge of modern times.
Putting aside the internal party squabbles and national division, you can’t exaggerate the obstacles that May is expected to overcome while seeing Brexit through. To smoothly unravel forty years’ partnership, trade agreements, regulations and political treaties in the space of two years is, demonstrably, an impossible task. Every voter has his or her own conception of what Brexit should look like. Some Leave voters wanted be free of EU laws and legal systems but remain in receipt of generous EU grants and trade arrangements; some wanted a bonfire of red tape and tariffs but no change to UK-EU political friendship; some wanted border control or some way of greatly reducing levels of immigration; and some just wanted to get out of anything and everything remotely connected to the European Union. Theresa May is expected to satisfy all of them plus the people who didn’t want Brexit to happen in the first place... like, er, Theresa May.
Over those two years, though especially for the last six months, she has endured intense media speculation, hostility from the public, the disintegration of her party and public condemnation from her own MPs, all stemming from the difficult task she must complete within a strict deadline. As my mother wondered aloud not long ago: “how does she sleep at night?” How can Theresa May find a moment not to think about Brexit - that, and preventing the collapse of the nation’s economy, society and democracy? The job of the Prime Minister is naturally one of the hardest around, but few peacetime Prime Ministers have had to deal with such a powerful and potentially catastrophic political event.
Hence why, despite the awful Brexit deal and the state of the nation after the referendum, I have some sympathy for Theresa May. She might go down in history as a terrible prime minister whose decisions were to the detriment of Britain. But when we make judgments like this, we have to take into account the monumental task that awaited David Cameron’s successor. They certainly had their work cut out.