Tom Richmond: Why May’s effortless victory sowed the seeds of her election folly

Theresa May is approaching her first anniversary as Prime Minister.
Theresa May is approaching her first anniversary as Prime Minister.
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HOW times change. Exactly 12 months ago, Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom were preparing to go head to head in the race to become Tory leader and Prime Minister.

By the end of the day, the first details had emerged of Ms Leadsom’s ill-judged interview on motherhood that led to her campaign collapsing with inglorious ignominy and the then-Home Secretary succeeding David Cameron.

Assuming the Prime Minister makes it to Thursday, the first anniversary of her taking office, she will no longer be the shortest-serving premier during the Queen’s reign – Sir Alec Douglas Home lasted just 362 days.

Yet how ironic that a leader appointed to steady the country after Britain defied Mr Cameron and voted to leave the European Union is fighting for her own survival after an equally monumental misjudgment – the decision to hold a snap election on June 8.

A flawed decision that went against the Prime Minister’s instinctive caution, a disastrous campaign can be traced back, in part, to the fact that Mrs May – just like Gordon Brown a decade ago – did not have to fight a no-holds-barred leadership contest.

If she had done so, she might have been better prepared for some of the questions and scrutiny that she, and her aides, could not handle during the election, like the nurses in York who exposed Mrs May over the hardship caused by the public sector pay cap.

She might also have been better prepared for her inquisitions with the likes of Jeremy Paxman and not opted out of debates with her rivals, which made a mockery of her strong and stable mantra. And, in doing so, Mrs May and her team might have appreciated the importance of accommodating the media wherever possible, and in particular regional publications and broadcasters, rather than becoming ‘control freaks’ because they didn’t want to be asked any incriminating questions.

Instead, she was woefully under-prepared to fight a national election which she had no reason to call.

My advice if Mrs May wants to stay in office? Instead of the bunker mentality, start engaging with the public – whether it be on Question Time or Any Questions? – and take the rough with the smooth.

The public will, frankly, give her better wisdom than most in Downing Street. For, unless she reasserts her authority, and show she’s capable of reaching out to others to make a difference, events, I fear, will conspire against her.

AS I mentioned the other week, The Talent Lab – sports journalist Owen Slot’s enlightening book on Team GB’s Olympic revolution – should be required reading for Theresa May and other leaders because its lessons are so prescient when it comes to politics.

Take Danny Kerry, who had to totally change the way in which he interacted with the players in his charge so he became less assertive and less reliant on what his laptop was telling him, and more empathetic to their desire for reassurance.

He did so in a way that those who were dropped from his final team were so committed to his vision that they remained integral squad players and willing participants in training sessions because they believed in his dynamic. Their support was that crucial. If only sacked Cabinet ministers were that loyal.

Why does this matter? Kerry, for the record, was coach of the women’s hockey team which won gold at the Rio Olympics after that sporting rarity – a British side winning a penalty shoot-out. Yet, after the Beijing Games in 2008 when Britain was sixth, the feedback could not have been more negative. Just think how the election campaign, and outcome, would have differed if Mrs May had this rapport with her Ministers rather than delegating matters to her flawed aides Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill who, in turn, refused to heed critical advice?

HOME Office Minister Nick Hurd – son of Douglas, the former Foreign Secretary – did not inspire confidence when questioned by MPs over the Grenfell Tower inferno.

Asked why former housing minister Gavin Barwell, now Theresa May’s chief of staff, did not deliver a review into fire safety prompted by a previous tragedy in London, he said: “There was plenty of work ongoing into the simplification of regulations.”

Sorry, the word ‘simplification’ should be a misnomer. Residents don’t want simpler rules; they want more effective regulations to reduce the likelihood of future deaths.

I humbly suggests he reads the revealing piece in The Yorkshire Post on Tuesday by Lord (Chris) Haskins, chairman of Humber LEP. When he asked by Tony Blair to head up a Downing Street task force in 1997 after a spate of national disasters, he insisted its remit was ‘better regulation’ rather than ‘deregulation’.

Unfortunately, says Lord Haskins, Mr Blair – and others – never appreciated the subtle difference, hence the lack of effective oversight of the banks prior to the financial crash.

LABOUR’S anti-establishment deputy leader Tom Watson was in the front row of the Royal Box at Wimbledon for Wednesday’s Centre Court action featuring Andy Murray and Johanna Konta. Behind him was the Duchess of Cambridge’s newly-married sister. Game, set and match to the Hypocrisy Party.

WIMBLEDON continues to be a jamboree that celebrates BBC corporate excess. Why on earth does the table for Today At Wimbledon, presented by Clare Balding, have to be adorned by a giant bowl of fresh strawberries? Let’s just hope they’re British... or some large raspberries will be blown.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk