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Theresa May's 'mensis horribilis'

16 June 2017 Political News


A quarter of a century ago, in 1992, the Queen talked about an “annus horribilis”.

Her beloved home, Windsor Castle, went up in flames. But at least no one died.

For Theresa May, the past month has been a “mensis horribilis”. This time, tragically, a terrible fire has cost dozens of lives.

In the course of a month, she has lost her Commons majority and had to battle for her political survival and had to deal with two major terrorist attacks.

Video: Where did it all go wrong for Theresa May?

And now, within days of a disappointing election result, the in her response to the Grenfell Tower inferno.

In a savage editorial, The Guardian compared the Prime Minister to George W Bush, claiming: “Grenfell Tower is shaping up to be Theresa May’s Hurricane Katrina.”

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The PM’s “mensis horribilis” began almost exactly a month ago, when she launched the Conservative Party manifesto in Halifax, West Yorkshire.

At the time, the PM and the Conservatives were on course for a landslide and the Tories’ own polling was suggesting they would win over 400 seats.

The manifesto’s flagship policy was a social care revolution, which proposed – controversially – that most people would have to pay for their old age. It was immediately dubbed a “dementia tax” by opponents.

There was a huge backlash from Conservative MPs who claimed the party was clobbering its core voters, older people. So Mrs May performed an abrupt and screeching u-turn.

But she when it was blindingly obvious that she had. “Nothing has changed!” she kept repeating at a disastrous news conference.

Mrs May defended policy on social care

Video: May defends policy on dementia tax

Then, in a painful TV with Andrew Neil, the veteran interrogator skewered her by telling her: “You need to be honest, I would suggest and tell the British people you’ve changed your mind.

“This must be the first time in modern history that a party’s actually broken a manifesto policy before the election.”

But it got worse. A few days later, in the Sky News election programme, a pensioner wearing a military blazer and regimental tie tore into her over the policy.

The PM’s two joint chiefs of staff, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, were blamed for the social care fiasco.

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Video: May’s top aides Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill resign

The two Cabinet ministers most closely involved, Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid, were not even told in advance it was in the manifesto.

Other campaign blunders were her robotic repeating of the slogans “strong and stable” and “coalition of chaos” and her refusal to debate on TV with Jeremy Corbyn or meet more than a handful of real voters face to face.

Her stiff, wooden answers to questions led to her be called the “Maybot” by sketch writers and lampooned as such in cartoons.

The only TV interview in which she lightened up was when she appeared alongside her husband Philip and revealed they have at home.

In the final days of the campaign, tragedy struck in a terror rampage on London Bridge and in Borough Market. Seven people were killed, just weeks after 22 people were killed in the Manchester Arena bomb attack.

A man stands near flowers layed at Potters Fields Park in London

Image: A man stands near flowers laid near London Bridge after the terrorist attack

After Borough Market, the PM’s record on police numbers when she was Home Secretary was ruthlessly attacked by Jeremy Corbyn and Labour. Her Home Office record – once her strength – became a weakness.

Since the election and the humiliation of a hung parliament, “strong and stable” has become “weak and wobbly” and going cap in hand to the Democratic Unionist Party to prop her up looks like her own “coalition of chaos”.

On the day after the election, she made more poor judgements. She incensed Tory MPs by failing to apologise on TV to those MPs who had lost their seat, until she was ordered to by the 1922 Committee chairman Graham Brady.

When she appeared before a full meeting of the 1922 Committee, she recovered her position, telling Tory MPs candidly: “I got us into this mess and I’m going to get us out of it.”

Clinging on to power, she parted company with Hill and Timothy, bringing in Gavin Barwell, the former Housing Minister who lost his marginal seat of Croydon South in the election.

But what looked like a good appointment at the time has now created more problems, with accusations that he failed to honour pledges to toughen up fire safety regulations when he was Housing Minister.

Grenfell tower protesters at church hall where Theresa May is leaving

Video: PM driven away from protest outside church

She was too weak to fire her Chancellor, Philip Hammond, in her reshuffle and bowed to demands to appoint a Deputy Prime Minister in all but name, her old university pal Damian Green.

To appease the Tory Right who feared the election result would lead to backsliding on Brexit, she brought the leading Leave campaigner , less than a year after sacking him.

Then came the Grenfell Tower fire. She visited Kensington, but only met emergency services and not victims or those made homeless. In contrast,

It wasn’t just Labour MPs who criticised her response. Tory politician-turned-TV pundit Michael Portillo said she should have been prepared to face residents’ anger, as London Mayor Sadiq Khan had done earlier.

“She should have been there with the residents, which is what Jeremy Corbyn was,” said Portillo on late-night TV. “She wanted an entirely controlled situation in which she didn’t use her humanity.

“The Prime Minister would have been shouted at by the residents, but she should have been willing to take that.”

The UK and EU flags are hung on poles outside the European Parliament in Brussels

Video: What does the election result mean for Brexit?

The lack of humanity charge over the Kensington fire is potentially more serious than the “Maybot” jibes during the election. Showing emotion – or being able to fake it convincingly – is seen as a vital skill for a top politician.

She always says that’s not her style, but the robotic approach won’t help her in the weeks ahead, when she needs to do deals, make friends and win back the trust of Conservative MPs. Some hope on that after the election result.

In the next week or so, for example, she still has to seal a deal with the DUP, start and get her Queen’s Speech – drastically slimmed down because she has no Commons majority – though Parliament.

What could possibly go wrong?

Plenty! And if she’s ousted by her fractious party later this year – which is entirely possible – her “mensis horribilis” could suddenly become an “annus horribilis” too.


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