Yesterday saw May’s swan song as PM – a full length speech at Chatham House. As with most of her premiership, even if you kept your expectations low you would have still walked away disappointed. She took her last chance to make an impression – to in any way affect the national conversation – and threw it away.
Final speeches from political leaders can have incredible impact. Freed from having to govern any longer, the outgoing figure can be much more honest. Dwight Eisenhower springs to mind with the “beware of the military/industrial complex” portion of his final speech as president. It is still widely quoted in America to this day.
With May’s last moment in the sun barring net week’s PMQs, there was not only nothing revelatory in the speech, it demonstrated how little she has learned about the events of the past year in even the most rudimentary sense.
May’s Chatham House address from yesterday can be summarised very simply: the world is becoming worse and liberal democracy is now endangered because the politics of compromise have broken down and been replaced with ideological fundamentalism. That’s all well and good to say, and I don’t disagree with the prime minister here, but she’s delivering this from within a particularly fragile glass house. She didn’t seem that concerned with the negative direction the political conversation was going in Britain when judges who made life a little tricky for her a few years ago were denounced as “enemies of the people”. Or when she appeared on the front of a well-read tabloid under the headline “Crush the Saboteurs”. In other words, she never once in her Chatham House speech seemed to acknowledge that the state of affairs she is decrying had been created with a great deal of help from herself.
The biggest thing the speech needed to address was no deal Brexit – and there is no passage in it that even hints at the topic. May needed to apologise for having said “no deal is better than a bad deal” and then discuss how that idea went on to poison what she was trying to achieve in getting her deal through parliament. Instead, May’s speech yesterday seems to refute the very notion that anything that happened with her deal being voted down had the slightest thing to do with anything she herself did or said. It was other people’s fault, those not willing to compromise. I did everything right, she seems to say, it was just that I was mistreated.
Having acknowledged her part in creating the no deal myth, she could have then used a substantial portion of the rest of it to talk about why it is a terrible idea that no incoming prime minister should countenance. Instead of doing any of that, May’s speech was just more of the waffle she has spun throughout her premiership. The world is a bad place and becoming worse and I’m only trying to make it better. I could have done so if only people had just done everything I told them to do. I suppose I can at least give Theresa May marks for consistency.