Hats off to May, best leader the Tories have bar none

The true test of a leader is how you manage when the deck is against you, the chips are down and hope appears lost, writes Daniel McConnell.

Why would you do it to yourself?

When you look at the week British prime minister Theresa May has had to endure, you wonder how she manages to get up in the morning and keep going.

Being a leader of men and women is never easy but her task appears to be an impossible one.

Yet, she has shown and continues to show a remarkable capacity to trundle on regardless in the best traditions of brave British leaders of the past.

Surrounded by vipers and vultures in her own deeply divided Cabinet and party waiting and wishing for her to fail, she has attempted to arrive at a deal which charts a potential path for Britain in a post-Brexit world.

Watching her deliver a media address in Downing St on Wednesday after a marathon five-hour cabinet meeting; in the House of Commons on Thursday; and her second press conference that afternoon, one could not but be struck by the visible strain she was under.

She looked drained, fatigued and nervous. Fragile almost. But she kept going and, if you listened to what she said, her deep resolve to carry on despite all the odds was remarkable.

She epitomised the spirit of Londoners during the Blitz in the 1940s and the underdog, never-say-die attitude of Winston Churchill and his Government during the Second World War.

“It is my job as prime minister to explain the decisions that the Government has taken and I stand ready to do that beginning tomorrow with a statement in parliament. If I may end by just saying this. I believe that what I owe to this country is to take decisions that are in the national interest, and I firmly believe with my head and my heart that this is a decision which is in the best interests of our entire United Kingdom,” she said at the conclusion of her comments to the media on Wednesday night.

The message was clear. She may not like it, she may disagree with much of it and have concerns about all of it, but this deal is in the best interests of the whole country.

Not a vested interest, not in the interests of narrow, skewed notions of a bygone era of glory, but instead a pragmatic and grown-up response to a complex problem.

She was saying that while others like Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson and David Davies can hurl from the ditch and shout from the sidelines like spoilt children, she is, whether it is popular or not, acting in the national interest, no matter what the cost.

Jacob Rees-Mogg
Jacob Rees-Mogg

“Leadership is about making the right decisions, not the easy decisions,” she said in the Commons on Thursday as she had to endure savage abuse from the benches behind her and across the aisle.

But throughout again, she displayed the best attributes of leadership.

Dogged in her responses, clear in her messaging and delivered with poise and authority in extremely trying circumstances, May had her finest hour since coming to office.

Addressing the media a short time later, she again vowed to stand and fight in a stubborn statement warning of “consequences” if she is forced from power.

She warned of “deep and grave uncertainty” if her Brexit plan is scuppered.

This was despite her Brexit plans being in severe difficulty after seven resignations from her government that day including Brexit secretary Dominic Raab and work and pensions secretary Esther McVey.

Dominic Raab
Dominic Raab

In her concluding remarks, she compared herself to her ex-England cricket hero, saying: “What do you know about Geoffrey Boycott? Geoffrey Boycott stuck to it and he got the runs in the end.

“I’m going to do my job of getting the best deal for Britain,” she declared. “Am I going to see this through? Yes.”

But to her critics, she sniped: “My approach throughout has been to put the national interest first - not a partisan interest and certainly not my own political interest.”

The making of a leader is not when things are going well and everything is easy.

The true test of a leader is how you manage when the deck is against you, the chips are down and hope appears lost.

May, since taking office, despite numerous mis-steps and errors, has prevailed because of an incredible mettle and refusal to give in to her critics.

All the way along she has sought and succeeded in keeping a grown up hand on the till, while warning what would come were she to be replaced.

Despite her best efforts, it appears her enemies from within are determined to do her in.

The reality is that despite all her efforts, the deal is clearly unsellable to the hardline Brexiteers and even the Labour party and has, as a result, brought the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit right back to the fore.

But the question that has to be asked is why?

You only replace a leader if you feel there is someone better who can do the job.

No one on offer from within the ranks of the ramshackle Tory party, made up of “carpet baggers” as minister David Mundell described Dominic Raab, would or could do any better than May has done.

Could Boris the clown? No chance.

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson

Michael Gove, who stitched Boris up in 2016? Not likely.

Jacob Rees-Mogg?

Raab? The man who as Brexit secretary accepted the deal only to claim to have been blindsided. Fit to be leader? no chance.

The vista of one of those lot taking over is positively frightening as is the prospect of Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn being handed the reigns of power.

Those who are seeking to bring her down would do well to realise what they have at present and count their lucky stars they do.

But they won’t. What we are likely to see is a concerted effort to topple May which will continue until it succeeds and the minute they do it, they will regret their actions, as the Tories did with Margaret Thatcher.

It speaks volumes that since the Brexit referendum passed in 2016, EU leaders including Leo Varadkar have repeatedly stressed that they have looked to May for the official UK government position.

Varadkar, Barnier and others have made it clear that she has their respect, notwithstanding the deep divisions in her party and country. It is also clear they had no time for Johnson, Davies or Raab.

Her battles are far from over and she may ultimately not survive long enough to see her deal through, but Theresa May has confounded her critics time and again.

I would simply like to say hats off to her.

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