Theresa May

I have been struggling for a while to work out Theresa May’s mentality. I have read, as we all have, something of her origins – the vicar’s daughter who ran through a field of wheat. I am aware of her time at the Home Office where she adopted regressive policies in a pusillanimously oppressive way. I am aware of her stance on the referendum – I find it interesting now that people describe her as a remainer, when it seems to me that the most important thing about her stance at the time was its invisibility.

Then a single word popped into my head which seemed to have a great deal of traction, the word “provincial”. It comes straight from the pages of Trollope, and describes the mindset, which he sometimes satirised to great effect, of the solidly conservative yeoman class which ran the shires of England in the mid nineteenth century. There is much in common between then and now, times of turbulence when the world is changing, power can move with quicksilver speed, the very ground under our feet seems to be shifting, and those determined to hold what they have must work very hard to ensure that things stay the same. There is a concern about standards, loyalty, patriotism (though never stridently stated). There is a feeling that everything will be better if people know their place and stick to it. And there is a feeling that one must never question too closely or demand an account of the people who claim to rule on our behalf. The refusal to publish the Brexit impact papers comes to mind.

Above all these, the key component is a lack of imagination. Or, rather, more than that, there is a refusal to have an imagination. If you have an imagination, then you can imagine things being different, and then you can imagine the status quo being different, and, in the mind of the provincial, who knows what might happen then?

Theresa May is probably the best, though inadequate, answer the Tory party has to its current woes. And she is the worst answer the country could possibly have to its woes. To lead this country requires an imagination, and not just any imagination, but a global imagination, one that is capable of surveying the global horizon, comprehending the feelings and wishes of people in manifold other cultures and places, understanding what mighty and complex storms are coming, and envisaging how the British boat can be navigated through them. (As Brexit proponents try to bend the word “global” to their discourse, I need to point out that a global imagination encompasses the EU rather than discounting it.) But, instead of the global imagination we have a woman whose imagination cannot stretch to anything worse than running through a field of wheat, while she steers the entire country blindly but unerringly towards the rocks.

* Rob Parsons is a Lib Dem member in Lewes. He blogs at He curates Liberal Quotes on Facebook

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  • Michael Cole 1st Nov '17 - 12:47pm

    Hi Rob, I agree with you, as do almost all LDs. Her vision, if any, is myopic and completely unimaginative. But what can we do ?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 1st Nov '17 - 1:34pm

    Rob, makes the mistake of sounding patronising when he is analysing !

    May would of course say, though not as much as her hardline Brexiteers friends, it is the Remainers or remoaners as they call them, who lack imagination!

    The real trouble with this pm, that Rob does not touch on, is not her identity in personal or professional ways meant, but her paradoxes. She is , like many , a mix of things. Every account of her mentions her as a nice person , who cares abut her friends and family. That she was an ambitious and hardworking minister, is obvious.

    She lacks the one thing most in her party have at the top. Ideology.Many value it above all.

    She is Stanley Baldwin for modern times.

    But unfortunately she has come into the leadership of a new UKIP Tory party, as Corbyn has come into the leadership of a new SWP , Labour party.

    The trouble with May is not the so called provincial label that Rob gives her, or the description as unimaginative. Major was both to some, and nice too. It is that May is out of her depth, and the government she leads is.She lacks the ability to communicate a message in warm and immediate ways. Her government is not one of , all the talents, but of, little talent.

    There is so much scope for this party but it is not rising to the occasion.

  • She has a load more public support than craggy old Cable. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

  • I try never to indulge in cod psychology. May’s main problem is that most of her rhetoric was based on the Tories stamping Labour out and they didn’t. It’s left her position weakened and vulnerable to plotters.

  • I share Lorenzo’s view that Rob’s use of the word ‘provincial’ is unfortunate however inadequate Mrs May may be.

    If I accused Rob of being a ‘metropolitan smart a__-e’ as a resident of the lovely wee town of Lewes he would be offended – so I won’t. Actually I rather like Lewes with its Tom Paine and Glyndebourne associations.

    Part of the trouble for Mrs May is that leading the Tory Party these days is like trying to herd cats – and some of the toms tend to wander and have bad habits these days.

    However, I’m afraid I don’t share Lorenzo’s view of Baldwin. He was a tough operator which was disguised under an apparent indolence. He disposed of Lloyd George and Edward Vlll and restrained the impetuous Churchill in the General Strike.

    Just for Lorenzo so he may judge for himself, here’s Stan the Man’s retirement speech.

    Stanley Baldwin – Last Speech – YouTube
    Video for stanley baldwin▶ 3:21

  • Red Liberal 1st Nov '17 - 2:40pm

    May has always come across as a curtain-twitching litlte-Englander with heavy authoritarian and deeply xenophobic tendencies. She is however not the worst that the 2017 ultra-nationalist incarnation of the Tory party has to offer, terrifying as that is to contemplate.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 1st Nov '17 - 4:06pm


    Very much appreciated. I did not probably make what I said as obvious . I like , and rate Baldwin, what I mean is ideology was not what he emphasised, nor may. But like you, can see as an operating and practical leader, she is more Duncan Smith !

  • The Conservative Party did not get to where it is today by having imagination. But it is difficult to see any ideology either. The important thing for the Tories has aways been power at all costs. The current Euroscepticism overlaying Thatcherite rampant individualism provides plenty of cover for its wealthy paymasters but ideology it is not. Pre-Thatcher there was a breed of Tory leaders who while eschewing ideology with a studied pragmatism did not appeal to the worst of English prejudices in the same way as the present lot. The worry is that the Conservative Party with such weak leadership and in such disarray still manages to hover around 40% in the polls.

  • Theresa May cannot accept that times change. She will move heaven and earth to keep us in the time when we all respected authority and knew our place. Unfortunately this desire to keep things as they where doesn’t work and just gives the impression of a leader desperately trying to hold back change. Times change, good leaders adapt and shape the future, leader crying stop the world I want to go back to the golden past, well they don’t succeed and don’t tend to last.

  • “The worry is that the Conservative Party with such weak leadership and in such disarray still manages to hover around 40% in the polls.”

    That 40% support for Theresa May’s government is likely more ephemeral than we imagine. Somewhere within that 40% support, is a cohort of hard-core Brexiteers. Unfortunately for this Tory government, there are RED Brexiteers, and BLUE Brexiteers, and the transient nature of the Red Brexiteers, once the Brexit job is done, matters greatly to the survival of the Tories into 2022.

    A soft Brexit will be seen as failure to ALL Brexiteers, and the Tories will be punished for a generation. That said, even though a hard Brexit will give them better prospects, it will NOT a guarantee a Tory government in 2022. And they know it.

    Are there some historic parallels? It was an accepted chronicle that Churchill was instrumental in winning the war in 1944. But curiously, it did him no good in the elections of 1945.
    The ‘will of the people’ having become weary of wartime austerity, dumped Churchill mercilessly, in favour of a landslide Labour government that offered the working class healthcare, via the new NHS, plus quality schooling and social housing and enhanced pension benefits.
    The promise of a post war Labour government, was that there would be ‘No left behind’, in the new ‘Attlee world’.
    The ‘will of the people’ is ruthless, and it simply doesn’t ‘do’ gratitude. For winning a war they mandated ‘a’ Churchill, but for the creation of a fairer society in 1945 they mandated ‘a’ Clement Attlee.

    So returning to the present, I suspect the will of the British people have already ‘factored-in’ a Britain fully independent of the EU, and I’m guessing by 2022 the will of the people will be seeking new inspirational social policies of a 21st Century ‘Attlee’, not the spent force austerity of a Theresa May, Tory substitute.

  • Sheila,

    I sort of get your argument but I think it falls down at the

    “A soft Brexit will be seen as failure to ALL Brexiteers, and the Tories will be punished for a generation. That said, even though a hard Brexit will give them better prospects, it will NOT a guarantee a Tory government in 2022. And they know it.”

    As every Brexiteer has their own version, some even have a version that is soft the Tories cannot meet the wishes of the majority or even a substantial minority of Brexiteers. Brexit will therefore be seen as a failure, the Tory plan I suspect is the “stab in the back” plan blaming the failure on the EU and the fifth column. “If only we had not been betrayed” they will say and as Brexiteers won’t want to accept they had been foolish they may very well cluster round the Tory party.

  • Judging by the news tonight that the Defence Secretary has resigned, and that others may follow, it appears the Tory government may well be on the brink of disintegration. Whether this is true or not, it is certainly not the ‘strong and stable’ government as promised by Theresa May.

    Judging by her nervous and halting performance at PMQ’s today, Mrs May gives the impression of being a weak Prime Minister. How it will be resolved is anybody’s guess but I wouldn’t rule out an early General Election.

  • Ed Shepherd 1st Nov '17 - 11:30pm

    Theresa May and many current UK politicians face a problem that they do not udnerstand and neve anticipated: an indebted and insecure population. The post-war settlement kept life improving for decades, in the Thatcher, Major and Blair eras they scraped by due to selling off public assets and the growth of new technology but the steam has now run out of the economy and the result is unpredictable election results, revival of neglected political philosophies and the loss of old certainties such as the power of the tabloid press to influence results, Theresa May might be more in touch if she really was still provincial but she lives in the posh-school-Oxbridge-Westminster bubble that has struggled to understand an unsettled society where Nigel Farage and Jeremy Corbyn are now the most influential politicians in the UK.

  • David Evershed 2nd Nov '17 - 1:49am

    Can anyone point me to where the Liberal Democrats as a party have decided to attack personalities rather than debate policies?

  • Ruth Bright 2nd Nov '17 - 8:03am

    It is interesting that May is largely represented here by men as a dull, unimaginative, suburban housewife. Perhaps what she is doing about harassment might just prove to be revolutionary in improving the lives of women.

  • Ruth,
    It isn’t just May that is dull and unimaginative, when it comes to policy and implementation that sums up the Tory party as a whole. The whole cabinet screams dull and unimaginative, unless you count back to the 50’s as imaginative and in some cases that is back to the 1850’s.

  • Ruth Bright 2nd Nov '17 - 9:45am

    I grant you some 1950s’ resonances – “colourful” personal conduct in high places anyway!

  • @ David Evershed “Can anyone point me to where the Liberal Democrats as a party have decided to attack personalities rather than debate policies?”

    Depends how far back you want to go, Mr Evershed. I do remember coming down to London to campaign in the Bermondsey by-election in 1983 and being somewhat taken aback by what was going on there.

    I also remember a campaign guide produced by a certain Noble Lord (who has since had some ‘unhelpful’ fame himself) putting the emphasis on ‘attack, attack, attack.’

    More recently, an occasional contributor to LDV, Dan Falchikov, is probably better informed than I am on these matters. You could always ask him.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 2nd Nov '17 - 1:29pm

    Ruth is surely refering to Rob, some , like me, and most, have made no mention of her gender, especially not any comment on being a housewife. I compared her lack of ideology to a man, Baldwin!

    As for dull, again I mentioned Major, a man.

    As said, I like Major and rate Baldwin , too, so why , because the news is full of sexist men, imply sexism is where it is not.

    Too many women in politics are seeing everything through the male vs female prism.

    It is getting dull.

  • Matt (Bristol) 2nd Nov '17 - 1:57pm

    ‘Provincial’ is not a helpful phrase, as it carries strong resonances of Central-London-is-the-centre-of-the-universe-and-the-rest-are-ignorant-scum, as does ‘suburban’ (which could arguably be slightly nearer the actual truth, in view of Theresa May’s Maidenhead constituency).

    Arguably, she is ideologically a little-Englander, as was Major.

    But basically the upper-middle-class heartland of the Tory party starts at the City of London, stops off at the Carlton Club and extends up the Thames Valley past Eton to Oxford University. This is the ‘province’ to which almost all Tory PMs have belonged by origin, education or adoption, or are obliged to subjugate their instincts to. May is no different; she scores on 3 of these four (although she did resign Carlton Club membership, then take it up again, over their historic approach to women’s membership).

    But Ruth is right: if May can, during what look likely to be the dog days of her premiership, cajole the Tories of all people into major – and lasting – changes around investigation of harassment and duty of care to staff that are more than symbolic ‘dead letter’ provisions, she will have made a significant step that should, morally, secure her a place in history whatever her other faults and failings (just as Neville Chamberlain’s role in the creation of the welfare state is significant).

  • Matt (Bristol) 2nd Nov '17 - 1:58pm

    Lorenzo. I’m sorry it’s getting dull. But the women are right.

  • Rob Parsons 2nd Nov '17 - 2:32pm

    Michael “Her vision, if any, is myopic and completely unimaginative. But what can we do ?”

    I firmly believe that we should keep going as we are, particularly on Brexit. The signs are now very clearly that public thining is shifting towards a reconsideration, and we need to keep coolly reiterating the reasons why leaving the EU is a bad thing, and the public need a say on the final outcome. It’s a long term game.

  • Rob Parsons 2nd Nov '17 - 2:39pm

    Lorenzo “Rob makes the mistake of sounding patronising”. That was not my intention. If it has come across like that, then I have not written it as well as I should. The word “provincial” is used in a variety of ways, not all pejorative. The sense in which I was using it can be pejorative, and in this case is, but it is not patronising to point out – accurately in my view – where people have weaknesses or limits that affect their ability to carry out their jobs. I believe that Theresa May has a limited imagination, and I believe that that limit severely reduces her ability to do the job of leading this country. I was also floating the possibiity – a real one, it seems to me – that the limits on her imagination were deliberately imposed in the interests of conservative solidarity.

  • Rob Parsons 2nd Nov '17 - 2:43pm

    David “If I accused Rob of being a ‘metropolitan smart a__-e’ as a resident of the lovely wee town of Lewes he would be offended – so I won’t.”

    If you accused me of being a metropolitan smart a__-e, I think it is fairly clear that your intention would be to cause offence. I did not set out to be rude about Theresa May, but to be descriptive of a limitation in her character which severely compromises her ability as Prime Minister.

    I would not, by the way, be offended. It would be water off a duck’s back.

  • Rob Parsons 2nd Nov '17 - 2:48pm

    David “Can anyone point me to where the Liberal Democrats as a party have decided to attack personalities rather than debate policies?”

    I am not sure if you are referring to the original post, or to some of the subsequent comments. If it is the original post, I did not conceive of it as a personal attack. I have nothing against Theresa May as a person. I was trying to describe what I perceived to be a limit in her character which is relevant to a discussion about her abilities as a leader. Where people have such limitations, that have an mpact on their ability to do their job, it is legitiamte to point that out. If I had wanted to make it an attack, I would have used a lot of different, and mostly shorter, words.

  • Rob Parsons 2nd Nov '17 - 3:02pm

    Lorenzo (and Ruth) “Ruth is surely refering to Rob, some , like me, and most, have made no mention of her gender, especially not any comment on being a housewife.”

    Gender was not on my mind when I wrote the piece. I would have written exactly the same about a man with the same mindset. On a closer look, there are two places where I use gendered language, in the first and the last paragraphs. In the first I use the phrase “vicar’s daughter”. It was a reference to the way characters are treated in Trollope, which itself emerges from the suffocating structures imposed by patriarchy and the class system in mid nineteenth century England. It is not about the fact that she is a woman, but about the fact that the social structure encouraged, in fact demanded, that some people in some social positions should park their imagination in a place where they coudl not get at it again.

    In the last paragraph I use the word “woman”. There is no intention to make a point about gender there. I could, and perhaps should, have simply used the word “person”. It would make no difference to what I meant, though I accept that writing “woman” might make a reader suspect that there was an underlying meaning.

  • Rob Parsons 2nd Nov '17 - 4:56pm

    Ruth “Perhaps what she is doing about harassment might just prove to be revolutionary in improving the lives of women.”

    Maybe – but we know that she has known about a lot of the scandals for some years ad has done nothing, so for now, I will remain sceptical about her commitment to combatting sexism.

  • Not sure how this discussion of the PMs shortcomings drifted into the current sexual harassment furore, but seems to me that the only way to to stamp out such sleazy and sometimes illegal activity is to stop electing/promoting alpha males with a huge sense of entitlement and a total disregard for others. And while I’m warming to the topic, it would help if political parties had more internal democracy so that young people with political ambitions weren’t beholden to the good and the great.

  • Ruth Bright 2nd Nov '17 - 6:30pm

    Awesome women like Kavya (Sky News yesterday and today’s Telegraph) and Alison Goldsworthy (New Statesman website) being totally ignored. THAT is what is dull Lorenzo.

  • @ Rob It was clear my comments were addressed to a Mr David Evershed (located in provincial Buckinghamshire) , so there’s no need for your duck feathers to be ruffled on that account.

    I agree as to Mrs. May’s inadequacy for the top job, but to be fair she is surrounded by a collection of male prima donnas of dubious talent, habits and manners. Keeping them all in order and well behaved must be like herding cats. Indeed, being a ‘friend’ of Mr Gove must be a great trial for that self appointed re-incarnation of the impetuous Churchill, the mighty Bo Jo.

    Talking of which, you suggest Mrs May knew lots about “the scandals for some years and has done nothing”. That may well be true, but then so did a succession of Lib Dem leaders in respect of our own great but not so good right up until two or three years ago. In fact a couple or three of said leaders were a bit coy about their own recreations. Glass houses,stones etc., …………….

  • @ Ruth Bright. Glad you mentioned Alison. Totally agree with you.

    There was clearly a wobbly failure to “First cast out the beam out of thine own eye”. in the H.O.L. A very provincial reaction.

  • Matt (Bristol) 2nd Nov '17 - 7:18pm

    I suspect Ruth is drawing the power imbalance with regard to women into this discussion because she sees parallels between how Mrs May is portrayed and attacked as ‘unimaginative’ with concerns raised by many about the same criticism being levelled at Hillary Clinton, when the thing is that many have argued, with good evidence, that there are real cultural pressures on many high achieving women to be very carefully controlled at all times in their presentation and to avoid at all costs male criticism for being overly emotional and ‘hysterical’. I think this is an entirely fair point, if she is making it. (Blimey, that was a convoluted paragraph).

    However, I now get the wider point and do agree with Rob says he was trying to make, that obedience to the Tory party and its agenda involves subjugating one’s political imagination to a very restricted palette, that is damaging to the party, and if Teresa May is unimaginative, it is because she has made a choice to – by and large – put the interests of her party above all else.

  • Matt (Bristol) 2nd Nov '17 - 7:19pm

    Sorry, last sentence should be ‘damaging to the country’.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 2nd Nov '17 - 8:23pm


    I agree , and disagree. That is what is outrageous, not dull ! I was in writing defending Kaya online when some on the farther fringes of the left were keen to criticise her for being, horror , an economic liberal , in Liberal reform.

    I was referring to the article about May, not the awful behaviour of men in power.

    This is a different article. One in which as Rob rightly mentions, the gender issue is not the concern, so all I say is why raise it on here?!

    The allegations abound, they must be seen as very little to do with those of us who are nothing like the fools and knaves and real villains involved, in our deliberations with each other crossing any gender , race or background, relating to each other.

    I manage to even get on with Tories.

  • Ruth Bright 3rd Nov '17 - 8:22am

    Matt(Bristol) has put it really well. Women are not whining about gender we are just “joining the dots” about the links between the way women are treated and portrayed.

  • Rob Parsons 3rd Nov '17 - 9:53am

    @David I agree about the glass house in that respect. There is plenty for us to do to put our own house in order.

  • Matt (Bristol) 3rd Nov '17 - 1:01pm

    Thanks Ruth.

  • Peter Hirst 6th Nov '17 - 11:09am

    She is a Tory and they are very loyal to their Party; much more than we are. Also, they are capable of great self-delusion as to what is right for the Party or country that they confuse. I’m uncertain what part her past plays in her character.

  • Simon Banks 1st Jan '18 - 9:42am

    Vince Cable had better personal ratings than Theresa May, last time I looked. It’s blindingly obvious that polls about who people will vote for are mainly swayed by factors other than whether you like the party’s leader and I don’t recall a time when we’ve ever polled above the Tories. In any case, the English floating voter (Scotland is different and to some extent Wales) is moved more by a potential prime minister’s authority, sureness of touch and control of his/her party than likeability or even agreeing with his/her policies.

    Obviously what we think of T May should be mainly about what she does and what she wants to do in politics. However, considering her character and motivation is relevant to working out what she might do (which for all of us, not just politicians, is not necessarily what we say we’ll do). If that’s cod psychology, we all do some of it in relating to other people. My reading is that she’s defensive. Some of her instincts are caring, but she struggles to admit that people who disagree with her could have a point and tends to treat them as personally hostile: that’s based on the experience of some people who’ve dealt with her. Her treatment of Nikki Morgan, for example, was mean. That suggests that under pressure, she’ll bludgeon on (and I suspect she may get some credit from the voters for persistence in a perilous situation), but she could retreat into her shell and listen to only yes-people.

    Tony Blair is an interesting comparison. He didn’t seem to resent people opposing him: he just condescendingly regretted their foolishness. That was another way of not listening.

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