No one who has ever quit a dead-end job could fail to recognise the look of relieved bliss on Theresa May’s face last Saturday as she busted out her favourite Pinocchio-like moves to ABBA at Henley Festival.
It was the dance of a woman who has weathered every political storm, been called every name under the sun, and chosen to stop caring how she looks. She might as well. Whatever your take on the politics of our outgoing prime minister, it’s safe to say that hers was not a charismatic tenure.
Her failure to make progress with Brexit – a thing precisely zero other UK prime ministers had hitherto attempted – in combination with often sexist comparisons with Margaret Thatcher and a total lack of personal warmth, regularly made for an unsympathetic reception from the general public. The robot premier of a zombie government, it was, in many ways, incredible that Theresa May lasted as long as she did.
But in the past few weeks, there has been a shift. As she announced her resignation outside Downing Street on 25 May, she didn’t just mark the end of the most onerous job she will ever have. As declared with brimming eyes that she had done her best, she also signalled the birth of a new Theresa: Notice Period Theresa.
May was never under whatever witch’s curse – aka, being a man – that saw her likely successor Boris Johnson’s buffoonish early performances paint him as a lovable rogue and distract from his professional incompetence, and extraordinarily sinister behaviour behind the scenes.
May’s previous attempts at humour – like dancing on to the stage to ABBA at the 2018 Tory conference, and accepting her 2016 Spectator politician of the year award from George Osborne dressed in a high-vis jacket, were never quite sufficient to distract from the Brexit deadlock, or her egregiously xenophobic policies and rhetoric.
But now, soon to have the weight of government off her shoulders, it looks as though Theresa May might finally be having that relatable moment she so craved. The past few weeks have looked like a highlights – or rather, medium-to-low-lights – reel of the few human moments of her time in Number 10.
Why not have a laugh about her infamous fields of wheat confession during her last major speech, or post gifs of herself swaying to ‘Dancing Queen’? She’s been the vessel for the most difficult job a UK politician has faced in decades, and though her performance has been soundly criticised, May can now rest easy in the knowledge that neither of the new candidates for the role is likely to do better.
While Johnson and Hunt dream up doomed plans to axe the Irish border backstop, apparently deaf to the warnings from Brussels that the UK cannot afford to waste a moment of the Brexit delay, Theresa May can flirt with the victorious England cricket team.
While they refuse to definitively call out President Trump’s racist tweets, she can – with extraordinarily little introspection – call them “unacceptable.” Like Bridget Jones sweeping away her relationship with creep boss Daniel Cleaver with a parting insult, May’s hand-holding days are behind her.
So what’s next for Theresa May? It seems unlikely that she’ll “do an Ed Miliband” and venture into the world of soft political commentary and occasional radio hosting when she is no longer party leader.
Sadly less so that she’ll emulate Ed Balls, and see out her professional epilogue on Strictly Come Dancing. Her allies apparently anticipate that she will take up some form of charity work. But for now, it’s no wonder that Theresa May is dancing. She’s the only person in the country for whom life is about to get more relaxing.
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