Theresa May’s insistence that she is sticking around as PM may have been met with scepticism and incredulity, but PR agent MARK BORKOWSKI argues her reboot may yet work
Theresa May stunned many in Westminster when she expressed her desire to lead her party into the next general election. After the almighty stumble of June’s snap poll the idea of the Maybot steering the leaky Tory mothership to another vote is on par with the BBC bringing back Kilroy.
Yet if anything the surprise announcement showed a new Theresa – one with pluck and fire and up for fight. If Maybot 2.0 could actually turn around her damaged popularity it would be a remarkable survival story in the brutal world of Westminster. Such feats, however, are not uncommon in other fields.
In November 2012, Chelsea Football Club sacked manager Roberto Di Matteo after a run of bad results, and owner Roman Abramovich made the most controversial decisions of his tumultuous tenure, replacing the hero Di Matteo with Spaniard Rafa Benitez.
Benitez was the former manager of Liverpool, and had been, throughout his time in England, a vocal, and sporting, thorn in Chelsea’s side. Roundly loathed by the fans, and viewed with suspicion by the players, the feelings of all could not have been plainer during his first match in charge: booed throughout by the crowd in a lacklustre draw with Manchester City.
Like May, Benitez was clearly a stopgap. He even had the word ‘interim’ attached to his title ‘manager’ on official club documents. But he went on the offensive, vowing not to leave, and at the end of a painful season, the Spaniard had secured third place in the league, and won the Uefa Cup. Still intensely disliked, there was grudging respect for a man who had taken over a sinking ship and steered it through the storm.
Could it be, as bizarre as it sounds, that Theresa May is Tories’ Rafa Benitez? Thrust into a job in the most difficult circumstances, with a government beached, she is distrusted by those she seeks to lead for her sins of the past.
Yet continue to lead is what she has vowed.
The reality is that she, too, is only in the job because there is no one else.
She is being propped up by the remains of her party, like Muhammad Ali held up by the ropes, as George Foreman delivers blow after blow.
The assumption is that as soon as the Brexit negotiations are over, she will step aside, and let someone else take over, untarnished by one of the more unsavoury periods in her party’s history. Or at least, that’s the theory.
But of course, Benitez didn’t go out empty-handed. He left with a trophy. Ali didn’t stay on the ropes waiting for the inevitable. At the end, he knocked Foreman out.
May didn’t fall into Number Ten by accident. Her rise was as shrewd, and meticulously positioned as any other ascension. She played the referendum with superb cunning. The third most senior politician in the country avoided taking sides, to see off all comers in imperious fashion after the fall of David Cameron. She is a bold strategist. A big hitter.
The general election was a disaster. But May is all or nothing, so it’s not surprising that when her plans came undone, they did so spectacularly. But despite gambling everything on a big ticket election, and nearly losing it all, she is still here. That means that another big hit cannot be ruled out.
Like Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones, she finds herself beset on all sides. Enemies to the south, to the north, the east and the west, with the existential threat of the Brexit beyond the wall looming large, and her closest advisors telling her she cannot win. But if she is here for the duration of the EU negotiations, who is to say she can’t?
It is not a foregone conclusion that the negotiations will end badly for her.
Talks between the swaggering Brexit secretary David Davis and the EU’s streetfighter-in-chief Michel Barnier appear to be paralysed by macho point scoring. May has an opportunity to go over their heads, speak directly to the EU council and offer an olive branch. If she can reach a workable compromise, she will have the Brexiteers in her pocket, and Labour on the backfoot.
Then there is the known unknown: events. Consider the wise words attributed to Harold Macmillan – ‘Events, dear boy, events’.
Stuff happens. PMs have to deal with them.
Things that happen can transform the political landscape. With a parody of Dr Strangelove kicking off on the Korean peninsula and general geopolitical volatility that very often puts our circumstances into a parochial perspective, the need for strong, level-headed leadership has never been greater. May has her faults but – as with Thatcher and the Falklands – she does command authority in times of crisis.
Football shows you there is no room for sentimentality. Boxing, for the sake of a few millimetres, is a knock-out punch landed or missed.
And in the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. But May has no room for sentimentality, hits hard, and plays to win.
And whilst she’s still in the game, watch out for her right hook; blink, and all her enemies could miss it.
Mark Borkowski is the founder of Borkowski PR and a frequent media commentator on UK and US TV and radio