Ad is loading...

'Theresa May's An Isolated Figure': Rosa Prince On May's 'Hellish' Week

© Getty Images

Two of her most senior Cabinet ministers resigned last week over her Brexit strategy, while Donald Trump publicly undermined her – sparking debate over whether she could stay in power. Rosa Prince, author of Theresa May: The Enigmatic Prime Minister, reports on the PM’s most ‘hellish’ week yet...

The prime minister could probably use a few friends after the week she’s had. Having invested a great deal of emotional energy in her Brexit masterplan, she must have been thrilled when it appeared she had successfully faced down her Cabinet at Chequers.

How galling then, when, having pledged their loyalty, she found herself betrayed just two days later by Boris Johnson and David Davis – men she had gone out of her way to keep onside – who both very publicly resigned. Then in flew Donald Trump, warning that her soft Brexit plan would kill any US trade deal, and heaping praise on her main rival, Boris.

It’s often said that it’s lonely at the top so, whatever your politics, it’s difficult not to feel for Theresa, perhaps the most friendless politician in Westminster. Like the diligent former grammar schoolgirl she is, Theresa relies on hard work rather than flair and responds to a crisis by working late into the night, alone, mulling over all the advice she can muster.

Most leaders cultivate old pals to keep them sane, but the PM stays frostily aloof. There is no one she picks up the phone to or shares a bottle and a natter with. No one, that is, except her husband, Philip, living embodiment of that clichéd figure of ‘her rock,’ who has quietly sustained and supported her since they met at university nearly 40 years ago.

Theresa has always found it difficult to make friends. She grew up a child of the vicarage, her father’s Anglicanism so ‘high’ he considered a celibate life. He was an older father, and she an only child; family life revolved around the parish. Public service was reward in itself – popularity was not required or sought.

So ‘Terri’, as the teenage Theresa called herself, had no special friends at school, and although she found it easier to mingle at Oxford, the death of both parents when she was 25 led her to draw even closer to Philip.

Even those who consider themselves good friends of the couple admit they find it hard to break through to true intimacy. The Mays are friendly without being gregarious, good company and pleasant, but guarded. Neither seems to need anyone but the other. Their bond was cemented by the disappointment of being unable to have children.

Throughout her Parliamentary career, during the long evenings when MPs are required to stay close to Westminster to vote, she avoided the bars that make the Commons a sociable place at night, and instead enjoyed quiet dinners with Philip.

As she rose through the ranks, she gained colleagues and advisers who all said the same thing: she was pleasant to work for, but always politely formal. Only two aides, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, broke through to form a tight inner circle in her years as Home Secretary and her first months as PM. Unused to such closeness, she became blind to their failings, leading to the disastrous general election and the abrupt dismissal of both.

Theresa is isolated. Her ‘deputies in all but name’, first Damian Green and now David Lidington, have good working relationships but nothing more personal. She has a full phalanx of advisers and civil servants, many of whom she trusts and admires, but none she is likely to remain
in touch with once she leaves Number 10.

© Shutterstock

Someone who has known Mrs May for many years once described her rather odd 50th birthday party, where, perhaps lacking many real friends, she invited constituents, including the local butcher. Perhaps it is wrong to pity her, though. There is a difference between being lonely and lonesome. Theresa May might be lonesome but she is not lonely; not with Philip at her side.

And how will her reserved personality help in solving the political Rubik’s cube that is Brexit? Usually the best diplomats are charmers; an ability to schmooze one’s way through the capitals of Europe would seem a prerequisite for the job. But in this era of political division, when compromises and consensus are out of favour, perhaps it’s no bad thing to have little need of friends – and no real fear of unpopularity.

Click through to see the images Donald Trump meeting the Queen during his state visit to the UK...