This week we have seen a very different Theresa May to the version we have become accustomed to so far in her premiership. When she became Prime Minister a year ago this week, May set out to pitch herself as a confident and level-headed leader who would do things her way in order to secure the best outcome for Britain from Brexit. At the time, the public bought into this version of May. She seemed tough, sturdy, and was vicious with Jeremy Corbyn in Prime Minister’s Questions, almost seeming Cruella Deville-esque as she mocked and cackled at him.
Flash forward a year, and it’s like we are dealing with a different person. Not only did the usually robotic and almost emotionless Theresa May admit to “shedding a tear” on election night this week, but she has also decided to ask Jeremy Corbyn for advice on what to do over Brexit! This certainly seems like a concerted effort by May to change her image – away from the “bloody difficult woman” and towards a more consensus driven, softer approach.
In some respects, this is a very understandable move. The Prime Minister does need to eat some humble pie and acknowledge that, while she is still rightfully in charge and won the election, she has lost her majority and the British public are far from convinced about the Conservative Government. Immediately after the election, she seemed unwilling or unable to do that, so the fact that she is now striking a more humble approach could be seen as a step in the right direction.
However, she also runs the risk of making it look like she is out of ideas, or even that she thinks Jeremy Corbyn is a better judge of what to do than she is. One of Corbyn’s biggest weaknesses is still the public perception that, while perhaps ethically and ideologically sound, his ideas are not practical and do not work “in the real world.” By seeking his advice, May legitimises Corbyn and gives the impression that he is a serious policy maker who can offer the Government real help.
Certainly a shift in tone for May. Whether it works in the long term however, remains to be seen.