Theresa May’s departure from office is far more a symptom of the dysfunction in the Tory party and its deep divisions over Europe than about her own record as prime minister, dismal as that is.
She is the fifth Tory prime minister in succession to be dispatched by her party over our relationship with the continent since Edward Heath took us into the European Economic Community in 1973. His pro-Europe position left him vulnerable when Margaret Thatcher challenged him for the leadership during the depths of economic crisis.
May’s shambolic handling of Brexit has always been down to her attempts to appease the hard right in her party and, like her predecessors, those efforts have been accompanied by one cruel policy after another, imposed on working people to try to solve the Tories’ internal problems.
Brexit chaos, the yawning inequalities in this country, our fraying public services and our once-proud manufacturing industry sliding into decline are the legacy of this prime minister and her woeful government.
Under her stewardship, food bank usage has gone up to 1.3 million and 4.1 million children are living in poverty – two in three of those in working households. Frontline police numbers are down by 21,000 while stabbings among teenagers are up by 93%. A&E waiting times are at a 14-year high.
Leading our country at this time is a serious task, yet the Tories have never looked less up to the challenge. The idea that our next prime minister will be decided by a handful of scheming MPs keen on advancing their own careers, and a few thousand unrepresentative Tory members determined to win a hard Brexit, is a farce that must be rejected.
It’s an insult of the gravest order to the people of this country that their urgent need for stable, well-paid work, affordable housing and an end to spiteful austerity is ignored while the party of private money and elite interests indulges itself on Europe once again.
With most of the cabinet now jockeying for the top job, I fear that they will have even less discussion about the issues that matter to working people.
Theresa May herself, unconsciously, encapsulated her shortcomings in her departing speech. The woman who brought us the malicious ‘go home’ vans even had the effrontery to quote the heroic rescuer of Holocaust refugees, Nicholas Winton.
With political antennae that insensitive, May was never going to be able to rise to the immense task of Brexit, nor show any shame about her government presiding over collapsing public services and deepening inequality.
It was also why the Prime Minister never demonstrated the willingness and ability to compromise that she claimed Winton had taught her. Instead, she looked at the close referendum result and a divided nation – and set about deepening those divisions.
Just as she was two and a half years too late in realising that talking to the trade unions representing six million working people was necessary to find a solution that would work for the country, so it took her three years to at last begin to hear what Labour had been saying since the 2016 result – that there was no majority for what the hard Brexiteers were serving up.
May’s legacy, if we can call it that, will be much debated. For my union’s part the desperate uncertainty her Brexit mishandling has brought to the economy and the never-ending austerity heaped on working-class communities will be felt deeply in the towns and cities of our members, long after the removal van has shipped her back to Maidenhead.
Theresa May would like to be remembered as a devoted public servant. But the party she led is riven over Brexit, and incapable of acting in the public interest. Her term at the helm has meant there is a very real danger that the Tories’ descent into Faragism means a devastating no deal Brexit becomes a reality in October.
Enough has to be enough. The Tories have exposed themselves as a fractured party presiding over a disintegrating government, propped up like some bar-room drunk by the DUP. They have no credible mandate to take us forward, be it on delivering Brexit or rebuilding the economy.
Whichever Tory triumphs amid the many runners and riders vying to be the next leader better not get too comfortable. So I say to them, for the good of this country, take the only honourable, sensible and dutiful path available to you and call a general election.