In Jenni Russell’s fine May 24 column for The New York Times, she compares soon-to-be former British Prime Minister Theresa May to the queen at the end of “Game of Thrones” — lost, abandoned, her realm destroyed. I gave up on the series after the first season, finding it misogynistic. Besides, who needs such popular fiction when we have history and current events themselves? After all, we must account God — or, for the atheistic crowd, life — as good a writer as George R.R. Martin, n’est-ce pas?
Which brings us back to May, who will step down as PM June 7, and her archetypal fall from political grace over the interminable Brexit. Russell points out that May failed, because she tried to deliver a lie — that Great Britain would exit the European Union and uncomplicated prosperity would abound. Not.
But there is another reason May failed, and that is she refused to consider another inconvenient truth: At heart, the British don’t seem to want Brexit anymore — if they ever did. Oh, yes, the hardcore, racist right-wingers — who are afraid of “the other,” whoever that may be, and who lack the imagination, industry and courage to reinvent themselves — want Brexit. But they are like the Trumpettes — one-third of the population. The rest who voted for Brexit to give it a slim majority — like those who voted for President Donald J. Trump in the Rust Belt states to tip the Electoral College — have had second thoughts. They’re all like the couple that went to bed drunk and woke up to discover that they not only didn’t really know each other, but what they did know they didn’t much like.
This is a ginormous case of impulse buyer’s remorse. The best thing to do in such a situation is cut your losses. A real leader — like Winston Churchill or Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose leadership in World War II will certainly be remembered on the 75th anniversary of D-Day June 6 — would’ve reassessed and changed course, probably without even signaling he was changing course. After all, part of being a leader means that sometimes you have to give the public not what it wants but what it needs, because what it needs will be what it wants. This is just what FDR did in his brilliant run-up to the war as he prepared the American people to confront the Axis Powers at a moment when the isolationists had held sway.
Instead of recognizing that the Brexit vote, a non-biding referendum, was a wakeup call and not a fiat, May — who personally wanted to remain in the E.U., after all — saw Brexit as a way to attain power, then retain it, pandering to the extremists in her Conservative Party to do so. But ultimately, you can’t hold and deliver what you don’t really believe.
Nonetheless, she forged ahead in the mistaken notion that doubling down on disaster will somehow right it. By then, May, an uncharismatic woman, had swallowed the early conservative media Kool-Aid that she was the second coming of Margaret Thatcher. Unfortunately, all she succeeded in doing was offering proof that poor leadership knows no gender.