Robotic May or a pragmatic premiership?

Accused of being ‘aloof’ and ‘lacking humanity’, Theresa May has arguably allowed a new view of her personality and political ability – or lack of it – to become the new accepted public narrative in the past few months, completely of her own accord, in response to recent events in the United Kingdom.

Most obviously, it was the Prime Minister’s panicked interviews and visits to Kensington following the Grenfell Tower fire which generated most criticism, begging the question: is Theresa May’s unemotional and cold character showing up her failures of management or is she a victim of circumstances at a time in which any leader would be met with fierce opposition?

As the Prime Minister was booed, called upon to ‘resign’, denounced as a ‘coward’ and subjected to shouts of ‘shame on you’, it was plain to see that she had misread the public mood in her reaction to the incident – a point Emily Maitlis did not fail to raise in a Newsnight interview in which May was probed repeatedly about her decision-making in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

Many put the increasing hostility and condemnation towards Theresa May down to the scapegoating of a Prime Minister who appears out of her depth at an unpredictable time. She stated that her job was to ensure the public services had the capabilities and resources to efficiently manage the chaos in the days following the disaster.

But, the lack of practical help and ‘shambolic response’ of the authorities was ‘disheartening’ for the community, according to many residents. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, emphasised that the ‘frustration and anger’ of survivors and relatives and friends of victims at the government’s ‘neglect’ was understandable after such a catastrophe – especially since concerns about safety had been expressed for many years preceding the fire, but were largely ignored.

In addition, and perhaps most importantly, when survivors eventually met with the PM, they claimed her lack of warmth was palpable – something which needed to be visible for any semblance of compassion to be seen. On the other hand, visits from Jeremy Corbyn, the Queen, and Prince William were well received and embraced by a community in mourning who welcomed them with open arms.

Artists and singers including Adele, Lily Allen and Nile Rodgers also expressed their sympathy in person. Many even came together to show sorrow and solidarity for the community by recording a single entitled ‘Artists for Grenfell: Bridge Over Troubled Water’.

This illustration of a desire and consensus to create a sense of togetherness, companionship and cohesion, necessary at an already unstable time for the United Kingdom, was not shared by the government. After such immense heartache experienced in London a concerned and kind-hearted Prime Minister should have been visible.

But it was not only Theresa May’s ‘heartless’ interactions with Grenfell Tower survivors who had lost everything which was met with disdain. Recited phrases and superficial soundbites were also prominent from the steps of Downing Street following the terror attacks in the capital on Westminster Bridge and London Bridge as well as the bombing at Manchester Arena in May. The Prime Minster was criticised for her robotic statements which lacked sensitivity and thoughtfulness.

However, Prime Minister’s Questions this week may have marked the beginning of a U-turn in May’s rhetoric. She conceded that, following the fire at Grenfell Tower, ‘support on the ground for families in the initial hours was not good enough’, going on to admit that it showed a clear ‘failure of the state: local and national, to help people when they needed it most. As Prime Minister, I apologise for that failure.’

The PM who, at times of uncertainty, needs to be resilient in the face of fear, more importantly must show a human side through which she can attempt to relate to and understand what this community must have gone through – before pretending she has the answers.

What her critics are gaining real traction pointing out, however, is that while she could have been doing much more to ease the burden on the Grenfell Tower families, she was instead engaged in protracted talks with the DUP to make sure she keeps the keys to Number Ten.

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