Theresa May was a dedicated public servant but that doesn't change former Tory prime minister's legacy

May’s politics transcend basic Tory ideals.

For most recent Tory prime ministers, deciding their legacy has been incredibly straightforward. Liz Truss destroyed the economy, David Cameron caused Brexit. Boris Johnson delivered Brexit, then lied about parties during Covid. Rishi Sunak, well, it’s a bit early, but it’s probably going to rhyme with “historic defeat”.

Assessing Theresa May’s place as she announces she’ll stand down at the next election is rather more complicated. As prime minister, and before that as home secretary, she espoused values and beliefs at odds with compassion, and was complicit in laying the groundwork for the anti-immigrant hysteria that now suffocates modern Conservatism.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It was May who introduced the “Go Home” vans, the ideals on wheels that drove around areas with high immigrant populations. It was the MP for Maidenhead who coined the phrase “hostile environment”, and oversaw the Windrush scandal, under which black British pensioners deported. She also restored the whip to two Tory MPs accused of sexually inappropriate misconduct, because she was desperate for votes during Brexit.

Theresa May has announced she will stand down at the next election.Theresa May has announced she will stand down at the next election.
Theresa May has announced she will stand down at the next election.

These were choices. In my eyes, May chose to demonise human beings as it was politically beneficial, and it was the same in ignoring the concerns of women by restoring the whip.

Then there was her role in Brexit, where she failed, albeit in the face of a rabid Tory party, to find a compromise, and ultimately caved to the worst of her party. When the country needed leadership, clarity, and details, May instead promised a “red, white and blue Brexit”. When Remainers felt hurt and needed to be brought back over, May told them “if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere”. There was no olive branch, no attempt at reconciliation.

But forced out, she stayed. Pilloried by her own party, and able to do anything but spend time with them, she stayed.

Despite all her flaws, it is arguable May is a good local MP. Even her announcement that she was leaving came in the local paper. And whisper it, but away from power, the former prime minister has been on, if not a redemption arc, an attempt to make amends.

She’s apologised for the hostile environment, and spoken out repeatedly against the UK government’s Rwanda plan. She has fought for causes such as combating modern slavery and human trafficking. Away from power, May has sought to be a force for good.

This extends to her position on trans rights, which represents a journey far beyond most politicians. As a young MP, May voted for section 28. Since then, she has said she “deeply regrets” Britain’s historical legacy of anti-gay laws across the Commonwealth, and urged nations to overhaul legislation that treats the LGBT+ community as criminals.

Calling herself “woke and proud”, she has also become a supporter of trans rights, supporting self-ID long before the UK government blocked it in Scotland.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A politician holding a view, educating themselves and becoming an advocate for the opposite is a rarity, and shows principles that stem from more than just ideology.

May may now be an ally, and her continuing work to fight slavery and sex trafficking is to be commended. It is just a shame she did so much to damage the social fabric while in office.



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.