“Whatever you think about Theresa May's record as prime minister, it's impossible not to feel sorry for her as a person.”
When these well-meaning words were uttered on Twittersphere following Theresa May’s tearful resignation speech, shockwaves were sent through the internet. Like anything online that is the least bit questionable, it soon became the template of a popular meme, with people adapting the tweet for deplorable figures like Ted Bundy and Thanos in a faux attempt to make people feel sorry for them.
This tongue-in-cheek trend may have started out as an earnest attempt to humanise the Prime Minister, but to the rest of the world, the message was clear: we have no reason to pity Theresa May. To them, trying to evoke pity for her after the things she has done to this country was as ludicrous as trying to evoke pity for supervillains or serial killers. For all these figures, they have one thing in common: based on their sketchy record, they don’t deserve our kindness.
Personally, I am inclined to agree. We’d do well to remember that May’s lasting legacy and identity is as the ‘Maybot’ – a nickname designed to represent a cold, dispassionate political rhetoric based on buzzwords as well as her consistent lack of emotion throughout the tragedies that have happened, arguably, as a direct result of her actions.
At the time of writing this piece, it is the second anniversary of the burning of Grenfell Tower: a tragedy that led to 72 deaths, 70 injuries and countless others being homeless, vulnerable and without their loved ones.
Image Credit: Raul Mee // Flickr
The fire was caused as a direct result of faulty cladding – an issue that was raised to Tory councillors several times by residents, but seemingly fell on death ears. With David Cameron declaring that he would ‘kill off the health and safety culture’, back in 2012, the Tory government (which Theresa May was a part of as Home Secretary prior to being Prime Minister) allowed for knowingly dangerous buildings to be built without any legal accountability and protection. They were well aware of the risks that might be associated with faulty cladding, but took away any legal provisions that might have protected the residents in favour of loosening the ‘albatross around the necks of British businesses’ and saving them money- seemingly overlooking the fact that this albatross might be justified.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
So, as with Brexit, Cameron left May to clear up the mess after implementing some severely damaging policies. But, with Grenfell burning down and causing clearly preventable deaths a mere five years after Cameron’s evaluation of health and safety laws, what did May do to put that right? Did she change these clearly problematic laws to stop an issue like Grenfell repeating? Did she shed a single tear for the victims of Grenfell? No. She may have forwarded her ‘thoughts and prayers’ to the victims, but what good is that when you have the power to do so much more, and yet choose not to?
A sprinkler in Grenfell is estimated to have cost £200,000 – a small amount in comparison to the Kensington and Chelsea Council’s usable reserves of £274 million. Why was the council and, by extension, the government, so unwilling to implement this? To me, it is clear that May was just as concerned as Cameron about the financial implications of health and safety – she was just a lot less vocal about it.
With buildings with similarly faulty cladding still being built all over the UK, it is clear that May has minimal concern for not only those who died at Grenfell but also any other people who will inevitably be killed by a similar catastrophe in the future.
Indeed, with May also making consistent cuts to Universal Credit (an unemployed person’s main source of income), she has arguably contributed to the 14.2 million residents (a fifth of the entire population) living in poverty as well as the estimation of child poverty reaching a forecasted record high of 37% in 2023-4. She also played a leading role in the scrapping of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in favour of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – a move that led to 47% of disabled people having their income either reduced or withdrawn completely. Again, May didn’t shed a tear over leaving so many disabled people destitute – not even when it was reported that approximately 17,000 disabled people in the UK died whilst waiting on a decision regarding their PIP.
So, for someone who has so much blood on their hands, she has remained consistently stoic with what many people have called a quintessentially British ‘stiff upper lip’ – a lip that only began to quiver when it concerned herself. I would argue that from the beginning, for May, being Prime Minister wasn’t about serving the country or helping people: it was all about vanity. It was vanity that caused her to call a snap election, vanity that caused her to keep pushing her Brexit deal and, ultimately, vanity that caused her to break down in tears. The only source of her upset was that she would no longer be holding the most powerful job in the country and, if that’s the only thing that can cause her to break down in tears, reserving my sympathy is exactly how to ‘respond on a human level’.
Lead Image Credit: Raul Mee // Flickr