DW2The phrase ‘Prime Minister Theresa May’ sounded right the moment I found myself forming it in my mind for the very first time. Yet what was odd was that I’d never thought to form that phrase until it became a reality around lunchtime today. Perhaps that is itself a sign of the introverted quality of our new Prime Minister who, from the outset, seemed the least likely to emerge from an otherwise extroverted field.

There have been a few transferals of power in my lifetime but none have felt as civil as this one. With Margaret Thatcher, there were tears, regrets and not a few accusations of disloyalty. John Major was royally dumped by a nation in love with six inches of ivory grin and a catchy tune. The grin would itself succumb to Labour Party politics (don’t they all?), though he did at least appear willing to leave Downing Street, even if he wasn’t heard singing ‘things didn’t always get better’ as he went. By the time it came for his successor to rattle the letterbox, Gordon Brown’s fingernails scratched a long trail down the Downing Street rug as he was dragged out by his ankles. There is no room for sentiment in British politics but this time does feel different. Two days for the old Prime Minister to pick up his slippers and give boxes of Roses to the people that ironed his socks seems like one of those political accidents that could become routine. There’s always been something undignified the way we load our ex-Prime Ministers onto the back of the removal wagon and this, surely, is the way of the future. All our Prime Ministers should shuffle off humming a tune.

Despite the relative calm of her arrival, Theresa May brings with her the promise of a newly reshaped government for which there is as yet no sense of what shape it will take. This capacity for vagueness has become synonymous with May’s style of politics. Other than her dress sense, she has not been an overpowering figure in government. Rather, she has become (and, I suspect, will continue to develop into) a grey studious figure whose presence we are almost willing to forget. It’s how we find ourselves greeting a new Prime Minister who remains something of an unknown despite having had one of the top jobs in government for longer than anybody since the days of moustaches and chin whiskers.

What does this mean for the country? We have no way of telling. May may be the May who championed the government’s right to track our internet usage. She might equally be the May who turned Boris Johnson’s ‘tally ho’ into a ‘tally no’ when he wanted to blast Trots and yobs from London’s streets with water cannons. Her shoes say ‘soft’ but her shoulder pads say ‘tough’. There’s no way of knowing which May will arrive on Wednesday.

At the same time, May was a Remainer, albeit one who refused to wear the t-shirt. She now sounds quite firm about Brexit. There may be a certain degree of calculation in this. The ‘will of the people’ is too absolute a term to describe the marginal Brexit vote but any new Prime Minister must be seen to acknowledge this new reality, even if we’re still not sure what it means for the future. What we do know is that a May Brexit will be different to the Brexit offered by Prime Minister Leadsom (the first time I’ve allowed myself to parse that frightening phrase). If May’s Brexit will come at an unspecified time, a Leadsom Brexit might well have started in September. She’d have invoked Article 50 before she’d even had chance to rename the Downing Street cat. It would have been a government ruled from the right as her candidacy seemed obviously driven by Iain Duncan Smith. Even her concession seemed to be as much of a relief to her as it obviously irked him.

The disappointment on Smith’s face was in stark contrast to the looks on the more moderate Tories who stood outside Parliament today to cheer the new Conservative Leader. There are a few on the right of the party who will now have to copy Jacob Ree Mogg’s technique of leaping like Roger Moore in ‘Live and Let Die’ from one snapping Tory snout to the next as each sank beneath the rising moderate tide. Mogg and the rest might cause a little trouble but it’s hard to see how. There is talk of a need for Tory Party unity but, in truth, there’s not much evidence that party fractures were as deep as previously described. Even with some MPs probably lending their votes to Michael Gove, May still won 199 votes in the second ballot. A small minority of 84 followed Leadsom. What this election has shown, in a quiet unassuming way, is that the realists have won the day.

One hopes that May heralds a style of adult politics that have gone missing for many months and, some would argue, quite a few years. Her victory sees the first introvert enter Downing Street as Prime Minister since… Well, the temptation is to say ‘Gordon Brown’ but his introversion was often indistinguishable from paranoia. One is then tempted to say ‘John Major’ but that would be to confuse dullness for introversion and there is a difference. May’s victory is one for the quieter and more moderate benches of the parliamentary Conservative party but Tories should be cautious about crowing too loudly. Both Labour and the Conservatives should justifiably look to their nomination processes and consider the worst case scenarios. 2016 has not been a good year for plebiscites and there was (and there remains on the Labour side) a chance of politics dominated by the extremes. But for an ill-judged remark muttered in a Costa and a lack of guts when it came to a hard political fight, Andrea Leadsom could well have been leading the party and the country. That might have been a victory for the Tory grassroots but, equally, it could have spelt long term political disaster. If the Labour Party do eventually get their act together and manage to elect somebody that doesn’t turn the stomachs of Middle England, Leadsom would have struggled going to the nation. May, arguably, stands a much better chance and there are few on the other side of Commons that have the stature to prevent her.

A quick election remains unlikely, though it’s been noticeable how few pundits seem to put much store in the Fixed-terms Parliaments Act. Two thirds of MPs in the Commons would need to vote for a general election and the popular opinion seems to be that it would be straightforward. However, it remains the least convincing outcome. Labour are in no position to fight a general election and the Act currently helps them. Back when the Coalition formed in 2010, the Act helped Nick Clegg whose party could not afford to fight a series of elections. From a Labour perspective, a snap election would reset the clock and might only guarantee five more years of Conservative government. If they wait until their leadership can present a better case to the nation, there could be a change of government, especially if the election turns into a referendum on Europe as championed by a newly politicised (and disenfranchised) youth vote.

In the remaining years of this government, Brexit poses challenges but even bigger opportunities to the new Prime Minister. The threat of Brexit continues to poison the economy but a little bit of poison does Theresa May no harm. A period of calm is now required in which the various political solutions can be proposed. Brexit itself is an ambiguous term and in all likelihood, if it comes at all, it will come in the form of Brexit-lite or the renegotiated arrangement with Europe that it’s thought Boris Johnson had wanted from the very beginning. Europe has long been the issue that divides the Tories as well as the country but the Referendum might have pulled its teeth. What we need now is a Prime Minister that will knuckle down, avoid the limelight, and get down to the serious business of running the country. We’ve had too many years of big ideas and radical changes. This might be May’s chance to prove that politics can often be done better if done quietly. Perhaps the time has come for an introvert to shine.

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32 Comments on "Time for an introvert to shine"

  1. I’m surprised you were surprised. I was quite confident and comfortable a couple of days after the ref that this would be the outcome mainly because of what hadn’t happened in her career. She hadn’t been sacked and she hadn’t campaigned.

    • Once Leadsom made it to the last two, I had absolutely no faith in the Tory grassroots making what I thought was the obvious choice. Two months of Leadsom saying the things that the grassroots wanted to hear said would have won them around. My only genuine surprise is that Leadsom quit so quickly. I thought it would take a few weeks of solid campaigning before she did. On reflection, feels like the whole thing was some IDS orchestrated bid to take control of the Tory Party.

      • May provided four years of tax returns, Leadsom only one and boy did she squirm when Marr asked about her the subject. She was clearly uncomfortable with the attention on this part of her affairs and it could have prompted her to think again about running. Not that I’m suggesting any impropriety on her part etc etc.

        • I have wondered if there was a certain naivety about her bid. She did seem rather relieved this morning. In fact, almost as relieved as Michael Gove looked when he gave up. It was almost as if both had stronger people pushing them forward…

  2. mahatmacoatmabag | 12th July 2016 at 8:13 am | Reply

    I do not hide the fact that I am disappointed that Michael Gove will not be our next PM. I am unconvinced that May is sincere in her stated intention to carry out the wish of the majority to leave the EU & I will look at who she appoints as ministers & who she puts in charge of handling Brexit negotiations with the EU. I hope she will appoint Chris Graying as the Brexit Supremo and find a way to bring in other Tory Brexiteers like Gove & Leadsom to the Brexit negotiation team, ideally she should reach across the isle & recruit Gisela Stuart & John Mann of Labour to play a part on the team as she should find a role for Nigel Farage, a man & a visionary who IMO deserves a Knighthood for his successful efforts for over 17 years to free us from the Tyranny of the EU .

  3. Only on rare occasions I disagree with mahatmacoatmabag. I am glad the 4 Brexiteers (Boris, Gove, Farage and Leadsom) have kissed the dust. Though not may favourite Theresa May is the least bad or to put it another way is the safest bet. I would have liked David Cameron to stay on but he gambled and lost.

  4. Peter Kennedy | 12th July 2016 at 11:25 am | Reply

    “Nigel Farage, a man & a visionary who IMO deserves a Knighthood”

    I have a better chance of becoming the next Pope.

    • And more deserving too…

    • It happened for Robert Mugabe and Jimmy Savile so I don’t think you could rule out anyone gaining one of those worthless baubles. It’s actually very unfair of me to mention Farage in the same post as those two because whether you love him or loathe him what he has achieved against all the odds is truly remarkable.

      • It might be remarkable, Rob, but it’s questionable if it’s the admirable kind of remarkable. He is an demagogue who uses patriotism and so-called ‘plain speaking’ or ‘saying it as it is’ for political ends. The idea of rewarding him for that sickens me to my stomach.

        • David, He found a way to reach a great many people who had been turned off by mainstream politicians. His methods were debatable, but then so were those of the established political class who spent almost two decades decrying anyone who raised the issue of immigration as a racist lout. That ultimately created the conditions that led us to where we are, it won’t disqualify them from future (so called) honours of that you can be sure.

          • For the past 10 years I’ve often written about those politicians (usually Labour) who closed down debate by accusing others of racism. Farage, however, is something quite different and the old argument of two wrongs not making a right certainly applies here.
            There are people who regularly speak about immigration in an intelligent way that does not skirt the difficult issues. Farage is not one of them. He panders to people’s ignorance and their intolerance. If British politics is in a mess, it’s largely down to him.

            People often talk about the lack of adult debate in British politics but the truth is that the adult debate is still there. It just doesn’t sell papers, get viewers, or even fit into 140 characters on social media. Elections are no longer being won because of people engaged with that adult debate. Farage is rousing an electorate that don’t normally vote but are only too happy to do so to teach those ‘dirty foreigners’ a lesson. To claim it’s anything more noble than that is to ignore the reality that’s out there on the streets. I foolishly started to listen to talk radio recently (I’d bought a new radio) thinking I’d get more adult debate. To say that was naive of me is an understatement. Ignorance is the new normal when it comes to politics and I think we have Farage to thank. What we really need is a way to take the passion and interest out of politics. Farage encourages people to vote based on their gut instinct, their heart, and their anger.

          • Rob Walker | 12th July 2016 at 6:06 pm |

            Farage is a symptom not the cause David. Politics is all about feelings and gut instinct, it has to be when a political promise made one day is broken the next.
            The people who back Farage have manu reasons for doing so. Some good, some bad, some right, some wrong. I remember discussing with you once the validity of peoples opinions, this referendum has made me feel even more strongly that no single persons opinion is more valid than anothers when it comes to the intangibles. Apparently you see I am a moron David, a racist too and I can’t possibly be educated, in short I shouldn’t be allowed an opinion or a vote because I voted the WRONG way, oh I’ve seen it all over the past couple of weeks. You are on the other side of the argument, you haven’t had the likes Gary Lineker whose wages you are forced to pay saying they are ashamed of you and posting articles about you being dumb. I now really see the upside of Maradona’s hand of god and Waddles missed penalty, it meant that big eared twat never won the World Cup.

          • Here you deliberately oversimplify what I said. I have never once accused you of being a ‘moron’ and I am, frankly, a little upset that you could suggest otherwise. I recall writing about this at length in a previous discussion when I said that you could have persuaded me to vote for Leave. I have always said that you were a rational voice for Leave. You were not, however, in the majority and it would be wrong to suggest that you were in any way representative of the Leave campaign.

            I always try hard to see things from other points of view. I have admitted that Remain did indulge the politics of fear but their sins were measurably less than the sins of Leave where there were lies told and plenty of dog whistles. What is more: the rhetoric being pumped out by Leave was deliberately aimed to appeal to people who were ignorant of the facts but suspicious of immigration. As I’ve written elsewhere, they are right to be suspicious. There are problems caused by unrestricted immigration and problems caused by the religions being introduced into this country. However, that does not mean that the debate should be held at the level enjoyed by Farage and others. Again, I have never called you a ‘moron’, Rob, and I wouldn’t say that about anybody in anything I write unless I was being deliberately provocative or semi-serious or, possibly, writing some tongue-in-cheek rant about some celebrity. I do, however, know enough people who are deeply blue collar, uneducated, ignorant of politics, and who said things like ‘I’m voting Leave to get rid of the immigrants’. Often the language was much worse and what we would agree is racist and bigoted. I might justifiably call them ‘morons’ but these are people I know and whose lives are blighted by bad living conditions, poverty, and worse. They are, however, deeply misguided. And what’s more: they voted, in some cases for the first time in living memory.

            If that is democracy, then it’s a democracy of the uneducated, ill informed, or simply impoverished. It’s the oldest criticism of democracy I know which is why I have always championed parliamentary democracy, which takes instruction from the people but measures it carefully against the law and reason.

            I don’t quite know why you replied the way you did. If I said anything to upset you, then I’m sorry. I’ve always valued your comments. I am, however, convinced that the EU referendum has legitimized nationalism which will now be hard to quell. It is right to worry about Farage and his popularist politics and it certainly not something that needs celebrating.

          • Rob Walker | 12th July 2016 at 7:46 pm |

            You’ve got the wrong end of stick David!!. A missed comma by me and I presume a misreading of the word see for say by you, (Apparently you see, I am a moron David) Perhaps I was too certain that you would know that I wasn’t referring to you and didn’t make it as clear as I perhaps should. I was referring to the general melange of comments on the Guardian, Independent and social media rather than anything you have said. I was simply pointing out that after having that sort of opprobrium aimed either at me or other perfectly reasonable people like me over the past couple of weeks I’m even more loathe than before to aim it at anyone else. I have to admit that the reaction to Brexit has made me incredibly angry but this certainly wasn’t directed at you. Anyway sorry if I have upset you certainly not intentional.

          • Not at all. Thought it very out of character but now I see my mistake. I think both sides feel very angry but at least you have a victory to keep you cheerful. 😉

  5. I do agree and think we need a bit of stability and calm following the events of June 23rd. I have never known a time like it and it is barely 3 weeks since the referendum result. She does have the Gravitas, the look and sounds like a Prime Minister should. Listening to Angela Eagle yesterday during her chaotic leadership bid she came across almost like a student politician. She said today that she congratulates Theresa May but she would like to be the third woman prime minister of this country. I cannot see that happening. I hope May proves to be a moderate and can unify the party and the country as we have been through turbulent and unprecedented times. She looks like she is made of steel and is focused and she did well when she managed to extradite Abu Qatada to Jordan after first being refused. I hear she shuns the limelight and likes to focus on the issues and detail. Hopefully as a quiet remainer who sees some of the problems with the EU she will be the best person to take the country into a new era. Cameron will probably always be remembered as the Man who brought about the referendum that took Britain out of the UK. Theresa May now has a chance to make her own History.

    • Eagle isn’t going to be leader and would never be PM. She’s sacrificing herself for the sake of her party. She’ll take the blame for unseating Corbyn, if they can unseat him, and then the big hitters of the party (if there are any left) will step up and fight for the leadership. Or that, at least, is my reading of the situation.

      I agree about May but the devil’s in the details. We’ll know more once she picks her cabinet. Does she put a right winger in DWP, for example, or does she put more moderate Tories there? Only then will we have any clue as to where her premiership is aiming to go.

      • Yes it looks that Way David but as you say who are the big hitters now? Harriet Harman? Alan Johnson? Dan Jarvis? Hilary Benn? Yvette Cooper, Chuka Umunna .Andy Burnham is after a mayoral role. They look quite thin on the ground. I guess we will know soon the Cabinet of the new PM. I am wondering what will happen to George Osborne.

        • Like I said: if they exist. They probably do but are keeping their heads down. I think Burnham is looking at Manchester simply go escape the civil war. I have a lurking suspicion that David Miliband should also not be ruled out but only once the fighting is done. At the moment, it’s impossible to see what will happen. Corbyn was a fluke, caused by people like Margaret Beckett lending him her vote so he’d make the nomination. They won’t make that mistake again but it’s not going to be easy. Fascinating but not easy.

    • I think you get an idea of how tough May is when you consider she has survived 6 years leading a notoriously difficult ministry that claimed Labour “hard men” Charles Clarke and John Reid in 18 and 13 months respectively. She has been winning the open war against the police and saw off Gove a couple of years ago too.

      • Oh, I know I’m simply enjoying what seems like an utterly rational choice after weeks of irrational politics. May is tough, no doubt about it, and I had concerns about her draft Communications Data Bill. I’m unclear where she stands on the continuum of conservatism but I like the people she’s surrounded herself with. All my least favourite politicians were supporting other people and I’m hoping that’s a sign that the side of the Tory party I prefer is now in the ascendancy. She never had the support of IDS and Jacob Rees Mogg and that has to mean something. 😉

  6. mahatmacoatmabag | 13th July 2016 at 7:03 pm | Reply

    Tonight 13/07/16 Theresa May delivered one of the best speeches any Labour prime minister has given in a long time mentioning the poor , the blacks , the working class, the high cost of housing & as an afterthought she mumbled something about us leaving the EU . ( Yes I wrote Labour PM , it certainly wasn’t the speech of a Tory PM )

    • Wonderful, wasn’t it!?

      • I was amazed by her speech last night. It could easily have been delivered by former Labour Prime Ministers. She has a lot to live up to now if these are not just merely words but policy that actually delivers. She seemed to be reaching out to those traditional Labour voters who are fed up with Labours internal bickering and lurch to the far left and those Labour voters who have drifted to UKIP. I agree it was not the speech of a Tory Pm but it was refreshing. As for Boris it looks like a gamble but she must believe it’s one worth taking. Wags were suggesting that when she went to see the Queen yesterday it was Prince Philip who advised her to make Boris Foreign Secretary

        • I believe amongst Thatchers few words on entering 10 Downing Street were:

          “Where there is discord let us bring harmony…………. where there is despair may we bring hope”

          Judge by deeds not words.

          • True and of course. Thatcher, however, surrounded herself with some hard men. May is picking talent of a very different kind. Even when she’s picking right wingers they’re not (thus far) the rabid types or a new Norman Tebbit.

            Incidentally, Thatcher was also quoting St. Francis of Assisi and it was a sanctimonious style of government that lasted right until the end. May will have to be judged by her actions but it does look like she’s trying to reshape the government and steer the Tories towards the blue collar.

  7. Boris Johnson Foreign Secretary. Four words that had me spitting my beer out with laughter.

    • Might be inspired. She’s just given him enough rope to hang himself. This could well break his political career forever or he will finally prove that he’s not the clown as widely described.

    • Agreed it is a gamble that could go either way. I heard someone on the radio question why the Media and the BBC in particular refer to him as Boris and everyone else by their surnames i.e. Cameron, May, Corbyn, Eagle or Smith. I think they were trying to say he gets special treatment and calling him by his first name makes him seem more cuddly or one of us. Not sure if it is deliberate but Boris has become a bit like Adele or Kylie known instantly by his first name. Not sure if he can sing though

  8. Lesley Lubert | 17th July 2016 at 7:28 am | Reply

    Theresa May has come out from behind David Cameron’s shadow and proved herself to be quite an inspiration.

    I think her choice of new cabinet members has been refreshing, out with the old Etonians, and in with people who know what life is like in the real world.

    I wonder if the decision to keep J Hunt is a mistake? He in my opinion has not handled the difficult department of the NHS well, the problem is not with the junior doctors, but the senior doctors, and other facilities not being available seven days a week. J Hunt has not shined in any official capacity he has held, so her choice to keep him is surprising.

    I am not a conservative, however at this time in our politics, where there is no opposition (unthinkable) I am glad Theresa May is the new PM. She MAY surprise us all in a very positive way!

    The Labour party is in bits, I see no recovery there for many years to come, as the choice for leader appears to go from bad to worse, as the years go by. What has happened?

    I think and hope our future is bright. A Brexit team handling Brexit is the correct way to handle our exit from the EU.

    The EU’s future is not bright by any stretch of the imagination. Not one single person who voted to stay, can tell us what the plans are to improve it. Mainly because it is not us who are in control of those plans. DC tried to get crumbs from the table and was not successful. Thank God we have taken this opportunity to leave, it will prove to be the right decision.

    • Agreed we do not have a credible opposition. None of the contenders Corbyn, Eagle or Smith inspire me and they look like political pygmies compared to Cameron and May. I can see no happy outcome. If Corbyn loses, the membership and some of the left will go mad and if Corbyn wins again the parliamentary Labour party will be up in arms. I cannot see how a split can be avoided either way

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