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Without true friends or allies, Theresa May’s downfall was inevitable

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23.05.2019

All political careers end in failure. Not all end in a punishment beating. The apparently imminent departure of Theresa May as Tory leader has seen a brutality rare even for the British Conservative party.

She was crowned with acclaim in 2016, and set the task of honouring the result of the Brexit referendum. In the 2017 election, she won almost as high a share of the popular vote as Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair ever did, a fact converted into failure by Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system.

She fought to steer a necessary Brexit compromise through a divided Commons. Her party’s response to her efforts should be an awful warning to whoever succeeds her. Panicked by Brexit and riven by ambition, the Tories junked their most valued political weapon, loyalty to the leader. They rubbished her.

Rarely does politics turn on personal failings, but May’s have been her undoing. British politics, Alexis de Tocqueville noted, mimics the club not the mob. Sensible leaders form retinues, protective packs. May’s inability to make friends or court allies deprived her of the natural support she needed in her tortuous enterprise. She seemed wooden and inflexible, even in seeking the compromises she so desperately needed.

May’s only club has been her husband, Philip. She was otherwise alone, and by this week seemed eerily bereft of kindly advice. Being bundled out of office by erstwhile supporters is peculiarly painful. It was so for Thatcher and Heath, and even for Macmillan and Eden before them. For the Tories, leadership recalls that of the Roman........

© The Guardian