X Close

What Theresa did next…

Does she have a bright future? Credit: PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images

Does she have a bright future? Credit: PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images

July 23, 2019   7 mins

Today the sun sets on Theresa May’s ill-fated, action-packed, utterly bungled career as Prime Minister. And the media, of course, are focused on two things: her past and the nation’s future. But in between picking over where it all went wrong, and predicting the first moves of the new PM, we at UnHerd spare a thought for Theresa’s prospects. We asked our contributors: what will Theresa do next?

Become an adrenaline junkie

Says Polly Mackenzie, chief executive of Demos think tank

Tomorrow, Theresa May will probably have a lie in. Clean out some cupboards. The day after, she’ll go for a walk. Pop to the shops. She’ll tell herself she’s reconnecting with herself. Taking some time to heal. All of us who’ve lost a job in politics have told ourselves the same story.

By Saturday morning she will be crushingly, blunderingly, exhaustingly bored.

There is no job as fast and all-consuming as politics, and no job in politics faster or more all-consuming than being Prime Minister. In Number 10 if you haven’t made eight decisions before breakfast then you’re doing it wrong. Theresa May has been criticised for being slow-moving as PM, and yet she’s still working at a pace most people would find dizzying.

So my advice to Theresa is to refuse to slow down. Speed up. Don’t pootle in the garden or amble through the South Downs: go cliff diving. Learn to snowboard. Jump from a helicopter. If you want to be really brave, you could try taking out the bins. Find that political adrenalin in a daredevil lifestyle, and – like Ed Balls – you could find a future as a national treasure, after all. Maybe even as the next presenter of Top Gear?

Stay in the Commons
Says James Kirkup, Director of The Social Market Foundation

The first thing Theresa May should do is commit to standing for re-election in the next general election. The recent precedent of former PMs cutting and running away from the Commons at the first opportunity should be reversed. The Commons needs the experience and perspective of those who have held the highest office rather more than the lucrative international lecture circuit does. Stay in the Commons, Mrs May.

What to do there, though? A former PM has a platform and the ability to put things on the political agenda that few others can promote. Mrs May should dedicate herself to tackling domestic violence.

This isn’t really about legislative or administrative action. What she should seek is cultural change.

The furore over a late-night row at Boris Johnson’s flat revealed something grim about Britain: an awful lot of people still subscribe to the idea that domestic strife is no-one else’s business, that someone calling the police because they worry about a neighbour’s safety is to be pilloried not praised.

In the Johnson case there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing, but in too many other cases, where women are abused and killed, there is a history of neighbours, onlookers and even the police deciding that the preceding turmoil was “just a domestic” and looking the other way. That indifference helps get women killed.

Perhaps Mrs May’s finest moments as Home Secretary came when she confronted that attitude among the police. Once she’s free of high office, she should return to that territory, and deliver the same blunt message to the country as a whole.

Confront the realities of her ‘hostile environment’

Says Bidisha, broadcaster and author of Asylum and Exile

It’s patronising, sexist and ageist to suggest that a professional, ambitious woman with a lifelong political career should shut up, pack up, move on and tend her garden or get back in the kitchen. So I’m not going to suggest that Theresa May books a few countryside hikes of a lifetime, makes jam or sets up an allotment alongside that of her supposed opposition, actually Brexiteer ally Jeremy Corbyn, where they can toast the English sunset together with some elderberry cordial.

But I do think we’re in danger of over-sympathising with May, simply because of the political trials of the last few years. She certainly looks much more relaxed and relieved now. But before she was Prime Minister, she was the Home Secretary who introduced the (I believe) racist, sadistic and punitive ‘hostile environment’. She is one of the powerful chief architects of the divided, hate crime riddled England we live in now, not some innocent dupe who was left holding the baby.

I think Theresa May should live out her professional days working in a detention centre for asylum seekers, to see the pain she’s caused up close. Maybe it will humanise her approach somewhat. One can only hope.

Write her memoirs

Says Iain Dale, host of LBC 

We’re not very good at knowing what to do with ex Prime Ministers in this country. In America the country calls on the experience of ex-Presidents from time to time – and they enjoy a special place in the country’s affections and respect. Here? Not so much.

Theresa May would be well advised to take some time out to think about her future. It would be a big mistake to take the first thing that comes along. If Russell & Bromley or Christian Louboutin offer her an ambassadorial role, she should resist the temptation, even if it could lead to the delights of a lifetime supply of free footwear.

She should and must write her memoirs, even if they might not prove as financially lucrative as  those of other former prime ministers. It’s her duty to history to write them, even if the process would no doubt prove painful, rather than therapeutic.

My prediction is that she will set up a charitable foundation to promote women’s participation in politics and the protection of women against domestic violence, slavery and FGM. My further prediction is that her former chief of staff, Fiona Hill, will run it.

Become a councillor for Maidenhead

Says Marie Le Conte, author of Haven’t You Heard? Gossip, Power & How Politics Really Works

After three years in Downing Street, it is still unclear why Theresa May ever wanted to become Prime Minister. She clearly did not enjoy the constant media attention or the endless mingling, and it became very obvious very quickly that managing the expectations of several warring factions was not her forte.

What she has always obviously liked, however, is being an MP. From stuffing envelopes for her local party as a teenager to risking the integrity of the United Kingdom to keep her MPs together, she has consistently proved that she is more dedicated to the Conservatives than even most of her colleagues.

Another area close to her heart is Maidenhead; unlike several of her predecessors, she seems genuinely attached to her constituency, attending church there whenever she can and working as a marshal for the annual Easter race even when she was running the country.

So, what now? She could stay on the green benches as a devoted local champion, but she probably has had enough of Brexit wrangling for several lifetimes. Still, politics is in her blood, and going from No10 to retirement surely is a recipe for madness.

Instead, she could do worse than become a councillor in Maidenhead; attending village fetes, tending to neighbours’ hedge-based dilemmas, and staying well away from the national press.

In a way, it feels like the life she has always yearned for; she just took the long way round.

Do some volunteering

Says Julie Bindel, journalist, broadcaster and feminist campaigner

Theresa May, the sexists might say, should devote her time after retiring as Prime Minister to attending dance classes, and flying to NYC to look at shoes. I would far rather that she did volunteer work with asylum seekers and desperately poor migrants in this country, bearing in mind that she has spearheaded many of the heartless policies that have had a terrible effect on these populations.

May is responsible for the Windrush scandal, which wrecked lives and caused huge distress, and has also stood behind legislation that makes it impossible for asylum seekers to earn a living, whilst at the same time taking away their meagre benefits.

She might also like to spend some time taking calls on a crisis line for the victims of domestic violence.  The Tories, under her leadership, have not only close down refuges by removing resources, but are also responsible for the destruction of the criminal justice system which should be providing protection for the victims, and incarceration for the perpetrators that are a danger to women and their children.

May might benefit from a few days at a Rape Crisis Centre to see how the services operate on a shoestring, since her government took away the majority of funding for these support groups. The majority of Tory politicians do not live in the real world. May’s retirement could be the perfect opportunity for her to dip a toe in the water.

Play to her strengths

Says Tanya Gold, freelance journalist

Theresa May does not have a gift for joy – she wanted to be leader of the Conservative Party – so I cannot see her gambolling in the Isles of Scilly like Harold Wilson or sitting in a Farrow & Ball shepherd’s hut like David Cameron.

Prime Ministers used to stay in the House of Commons after they stepped down – or were ousted by a shrieking mob of wankers – but parliamentary democracy no longer has anything like that kind of lustre. So they skulk off, sulking, often to lament and too often to write a bad memoir.

My suggestion is that May should look to her gifts, which are bullying immigrants while pretending not to (the Windrush scandal should be a real stain on her conscience) and being shouted at by infantile men. She should become the head waitress at the awful London restaurant School Dinners, which serves school dinners to men too old to be at school, and like a good caning. It is as despairing as Brexit: “without a doubt the worst meal I have ever had in a London restaurant,” is an average review. It was as awful as the Paddington “fellatio cafe” which never actually opened. She could refuse to admit ethnic minority boys until they show her their papers.

School Dinners has closed down, but that only adds to the pathos.

Says Peter Franklin, Associate Editor of UnHerd

What should Theresa May do next? Hmm, let’s see now… how about… nothing? Nothing at all, in fact.

One of the best things about May is that she became Prime Minister at a sensible age: 59. The trouble with young, energetic leaders of the Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau variety is what to do with them afterwards. You don’t want them haunting public life like the spectral Tony Blair or hiding in sheds like the sheepish David Cameron. It’s unseemly.

However, a mature leader – having done his or her last big job – can retire just like normal people do.

Having bungled Brexit and a general election, Theresa May is out on her ear slightly ahead of schedule; but a couple of years on the back benches and she’ll be good to go. There’ll be the inevitable memoirs of course, some charity work and such like, but other than that we need never hear from her again.

One would like to think that our ex-leaders would become wise elders, drawing upon their experience at the pinnacle of power to think deep thoughts about the system of the world. It says something about the shallowness of our politics (or perhaps the omertà of the establishment) that they have so little to share. Even Barack Obama, that most cerebral of ex-Presidents, hasn’t had much to say so far.

Therefore, let’s not demand too much of Theresa May. She’s only had three years in office, but it must have felt like thirty. She’s earned a long, happy and peaceful retirement.

Various Contributors bringing a range of different voices.


Join the discussion

Rejoignez des lecteurs partageant les mêmes idées qui soutiennent notre journalisme en devenant abonnés payants.


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments