JAN MOIR: Whatever you think of her politics, you have to admire Theresa May’s resilience and grit under fire
Whatever you think of Theresa May’s politics, this week it has been hard not to admire her resilience, her true grit, her determination to persevere and nail down this blasted Brexit imbroglio – or perish in the attempt.
‘I will see it through,’ she said on Thursday, amid a bonfire of vanities and under the thickening pall of assorted ministerial careers going up in smoke.
As resignations thumped onto her desk and Brexiteers stepped up their pygmy attacks on her authority, the embattled Prime Minister did not shirk from her duty. She put on her green glass beads and a dab of lipstick, then sallied forth to face the hostile world.
She made a statement, took a press conference, did a radio interview, held her own within the gathering storm. It all suggested a type of fortitude that borders on the superhuman.
Theresa May arrives back at Downing Street on Friday after her LBC phone-in to sell her Brexit deal to the public, after days of Westminster drama following the draft agreement
Yes, she looked tired, sometimes even exhausted. Baggy of eye and surely weary of the constant criticism from all quarters, there was a fleeting moment, one that every woman dreads, when she seemed near to tears in public. Please, anything but that! Disaster was averted when somehow Mrs May beat back the sobs and soldiered on, as dry-eyed and determined as ever.
Women from all walks of life and all sides of the political divide looked at the prime minister with fresh admiration. From millennial Corbynistas to stalwarts in the blue rinse brigade, we could only applaud her stamina and composure under such terrible pressure. Never mind Mrs M’s plucky Abba Dancing Queen antics at the party conference, much more impressive is this steel-plated super trouper, especially one who displays courage under sustained Boris-fire.
Meanwhile, any female employee who has ever worked in a male-dominated industry, struggled in a treacherous work environment or howled in powerless frustration at the Men In Suits Who Won’t Listen will keenly appreciate her selflessness and sense of duty. At least Mrs May has delivered a deal. If they don’t like it, where are all their brilliant ideas to solve the problem?
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The beleaguered Prime Minister has somehow endured 30 months of tortuous Brexit negotiations; a banquet of political bile served with side dishes of infighting, mockery, abuse and treachery – and that’s just from her own party. She has also been ostracised in Brussels, humiliated in Salzburg and belittled at every step of the way by men like Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, whom history will not treat with reverence.
Men who should know better, but don’t. Men who would never treat another man in the some disrespectful and occasionally repellent way they treated her.
Yet the Prime Minister has never complained, never put herself forward as a victim and never buckled.
Instead she has forged on with her impossible task, thrashing around in a constitutional and political mess that was not of her own making. She has tried to make the best of it and I’m still glad she is in charge, despite everything.
Mrs May during a press conference in Downing Street on Thursday. She has faced a series of ministerial resignations and a plot to oust her by hardline Brexiteer MPs
Who else has her capacity for thankless slog, or her willingness to put in the hard yards? When the going got tough, former PM David Cameron and ex-Chancellor George Osborne left Westminster sharpish to pursue their own (highly lucrative) interests, both men taking more out of politics than they ever put in, unlike Theresa.
Rising to the top job after the elite chumocracy and Flashman swagger of their era, Mrs May’s middle-class sensibilities and head girl diligence seemed to be just what the country needed.
She was the studious only child, the vicar’s daughter; the dry stick, duty-first politician who went from the Home Office to Downing Street, to become the unlucky Conservative leader handed the poisoned chalice of delivering Brexit.
No doubt she longs for the day when she can relax at her constituency home in the Berkshire village of Sonning with devoted husband Philip. He is the semi-retired City businessman who heats up quiches for her suppers and no doubt wonders how much more of this his wife can take.
For the moment, the lonely Mrs May staggers on in a febrile political world where ambition is naked and so are the hostilities. She has been magnificent in her quietude and resolve over this torrid week, but for how much longer can she stay in power? The more terrifying question is this: who would replace her?
In the meantime, it is good to know that Mrs May is a church-going Christian who believes in the power of prayer – she will certainly need all of them now. She took the blows, and did it her way – but where do we go from here?
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