When Theresa May won the leadership election for the Conservative party following David Cameron’s resignation, and Brexit, she promised to bring ‘strong and stable’ leadership to the country. She promised to fight for the ‘just about managing’ families of Britain. She promised a great deal, and for the first few months it worked.
Compared to the stumbling and enemy prone Jeremy Corbyn, Theresa May came across as calm, confident and experienced. She had served for six years as Home Secretary-a record since the end of the Second World War- and she had done her best to contribute to Britain’s recovery after the economic recession of 2008. Additionally, though she might not have been the most eager for Brexit, she soon threw herself into ensuring that Britain got the best deal possible from Europe. She ensured that her cabinet was filled with those who supported Brexit, as well as those who wanted to chart a middle ground.
Theresa May appeared to be working in the interests of the British people, and her twenty point lead over Jeremy Corbyn in April, 2017 seemed to reflect the view of the British people that she was indeed doing a good job. She then called a general election, and many predicted a landslide for the Conservatives in the face of a hopeless Labour party, riven by internal division, a non-existent Liberal Democrat party, and the decimation of UKIP. What has since transpired has been something few would’ve expected in April.
Theresa May prides herself on being forthright, having come from a humble background and supposedly espousing ‘traditional British values.’ She prides herself on her morals and being willing to fight for what she believes is right for Britain. Her catch phrase is meant to reflect that. Yet many are increasingly coming to believe that that is a lie, and that her underlying problems will be her undoing.
But what exactly are the problems that people such as Jeremy Corbyn, Tim Farron and Nicola Sturgeon feel Theresa May is trying to hide from the British public, and why would they be such a big talking point of this election, if they were not important beforehand? Well, there are the obvious issues: police cuts, issues in the NHS, immigration and security, as well as the less well known issues, mainly that there is surprisingly little actual criticism of Theresa May present before she became Prime Minister.
Firstly, in light of the recent attacks in London and Manchester, cuts to the police service have become an ever more pressing issue. Before the general election, there were murmurs that the cuts being implemented by the Conservative government to the police force were alarming and would have severe consequences, but they were just murmurs nothing more. It is only after attacks in London and Manchester, and the revelations that those responsible for the attacks were known to the police, but that the police could do nothing about them, because of how many other things they had to do, that the issue of the cuts has becoming a serious issue.
In fact a quick look at the figures as stated by the government shows that from March 2010 to March, 2016, police numbers fell from 143,734 to 124,066 and during the same time period the number of armed officers fell from 6,653 to 5,639. Given the increased risk of terror in Europe, following the attacks in France, Germany and Belgium, this is an alarming statistic. As Home Secretary, Theresa May defended such cuts stating that the system needed reform, and that reducing the number of policemen would save costs. During the time of the recession and the recovery this was understandable, but now? Now it is seen as something that was an unnecessary risk to take. Jeremy Corbyn has vigorously criticised Theresa May for these cuts stating: “You cannot protect the public on the cheap. The police and security services must get the resources they need not 20,000 police cuts.”
However, as is seemingly common with Theresa May, she has deflected this criticism, not with solid argument, but with what has increasingly appeared to be desperation. In a speech on Monday she said: “The commissioner of the Metropolitan Police has said that the Met is well-resourced, and they are, and that they have very powerful counterterrorism capabilities, and they do. We have protected counterterrorism policing budgets.”
This seems highly ironic given the cuts to policing and the obvious affect it is having, as Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, which represents the police said. “Nobody here will say: ‘If it wasn’t for this cut, that wouldn’t have happened. It would be folly to say so. But what we can say is that the figures speak for themselves and questions need to be asked.”
Theresa May’s record is not just shady on policing. On immigration, May promised to live up to a Conservative pledge in the 2010 and 2015 election campaigns to reduce immigration down to 100,000. In 2014, had increased from 244,000 to 330,000 an increase rather than a decrease. And in her attempt to change course or make up for this short fall, May has taken to some rather odd strategies. Firstly, she insists that international students be included in the immigration count, despite several of her colleagues and experts stating that this would be a grave mistake, and as such the numbers have not fallen, though British Universities have suffered. Secondly May used a series of vans in immigrant communities, which included slogans that not only encouraged immigrants to leave, but were highly racist, which did not unsurprisingly convince immigrants to leave, but rather fostered feelings of anger and resentment amongst these communities. Thirdly, May then targeted random groups of people such as two American Bloggers, who were allowed to tour North America and Europe freely, but were refused entry in Britain for unknown reasons. Theresa May has consistently, tried to project an image for a strong leader during the campaign, but as one can see here, her record is not strong, it is not perfect, it is weak and shady. This is further emphasised by the fact that there appeared to be little actual overt criticism of May as Home Secretary.
It appears that Theresa May and her close advisors would pressurise members of the press to either print something flattering about her, or to criticise junior ministers or civil servants in the Home Office-a clear breach of our supposed freedom of speech- and anything that slipped through their net and directly criticised May was either removed, or made unavailable within moments of being uploaded. This fits in with another trend that has been noticed, Theresa May seems to be a big fan of preventing overt criticism over her person. A big supporter of the 2014 Lobbying Act Theresa May, has often refused to answer questions or comments from charities such as the British Red Cross, over the state of the NHS and the level of homelessness within Britain. Indeed, after attacking the British Red Cross for their ‘crisis in the NHS’ comments earlier this year, it appears that May has stifled charities of all shapes and sizes from actually discussing the election, something which is being called a “grave threat to our democracy.”
Finally, on the campaign trail itself, there have been a few gaffes, most memorably the U turn over welfare payments and winter fuel payments for the elderly, which led to May stating that her U-turn was not in fact a U turn but a cleverly cast policy, which came in for a lot of ridicule. There have been her refusals to take part in debates with other party leaders, making her appear afraid and scared, there have been her weak answers and frigid appearances during television interviews, and a whole other litany of things that appear to contradict the Strong and Stable leadership image she has tried to convey.
To conclude, Theresa May can appear confident and sure of herself when she wishes to, she can talk about her record-which isn’t that impressive, other than being the longest serving home secretary since the end of the war- and she can deride Jeremy Corbyn. But, when one looks at it, her record is somewhat shocking, promises have consistently been made and broken, her approach to handling criticism smacks of a third world dictator, and her ability to handle pressure situations seems lacking. Theresa May is a woman of many faces, not many of them pleasant.