The Sound of Silence: May’s first six months

If a week is a long time in politics, then six months is a lifetime. Theresa May’s first six months as Prime Minister have been interesting, if somewhat uneventful given that Britain - and the wider western world - is now facing the most unprecedented domestic and geo-political change in modern times.

It is difficult to believe that it is half a year since Britain voted to leave the European Union. The chaos that unfolded that month, with the resignation of one Prime Minister and the accession of another; along with the mass resignation of the opposition front bench, now seems a world away as we approach the deadline for triggering Article 50. 

For a Government that is inevitably defined – despite the Prime Minister’s wishes to the contrary – by Brexit, it is peculiar that on that single issue, almost nothing of significance has happened in the last six months. Thus far, chatter has trumped action.

We are told that behind the scenes the Government is on track; that we cannot be told the full plans for fear of compromising the exit negotiations. Whilst everyone recognises that a degree of confidentiality is required in complex negotiations such as these, many Conservative backbenchers, both leave and remain supporters, are growing increasingly restless at the Government’s radio silence.

We have been promised a ‘big’ speech by the Prime Minister in the coming weeks where she will set out the Government’s thinking on Brexit. This in itself is important to help reaffirm public confidence in her and the Government. There is however a sense that Theresa May’s hand is being forced; that the speech is being made to stave off the growing pressure on her from Parliament and the media, rather than as an act of strategic brilliance.  

The real problem is that by saying nothing until now, Theresa May has allowed an impression to develop, justified or otherwise, that she and her Government don’t know what they are doing. By attracting this reputation at such an early stage in her premiership, she will find it difficult to shake off this image as the Government tries to take its hand to other, and inevitably less complex issues.   

This is an image which contrasts strongly with the overwhelmingly positive coverage the Prime Minister received soon after taking office. The Daily Express commented in July after her cabinet reshuffle: ‘If there were any doubts about Theresa May’s ability to deliver decisive leadership, they have already been dispelled’. Few would describe her as decisive now, with the Economist this week dubbing her ‘Theresa Maybe’.

Whilst we can expect a more frequent drip of information about Brexit in the next six months, how this information will be received is anyone’s guess. After Theresa May hinted that Britain would look to leave the Single Market in her interview with Sky News last Sunday, the pound fell to its lowest level since October. An increase in information about Brexit will not necessarily make the discourse around it any simpler.

As the Prime Minister responsible for deciding the terms of Britain’s future relationship with the EU, Theresa May has an opportunity to secure her place in history. If the last six months have been uneventful, then the next six will prove absolutely crucial, but it is important that she takes her party and the public on that complex journey with her.   

Author

William Blackman

Consultant

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