James Forsyth

How did an enigma like Theresa May become PM?

How did an enigma like Theresa May become PM?
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Theresa May is not the easiest person to speak to in Westminster. She is reluctant to get drawn into a conversation unless she knows what the outcome of it is going to be. But it is still surprising to find the lengths that her colleagues had to go to, to get an understanding of what she wanted to do as Prime Minister.

In an interview with Britain in a Changing Europe, Gavin Barwell recalls going to see her after the 2017 election – which had seen May lose her majority and Barwell his seat. In an attempt to reset her premiership, May had invited him to be her chief of staff. So, he travelled to her constituency home to see her. But the talk hardly flowed, he says:

You can imagine, knowing Theresa, that was not an easy conversation to have initially. But I was very upfront about it. I said, 'I can’t do the job unless I understand you. I know you hate having these kinds of conversations, so I’ve come up with a game to make it a bit easier. I’m going to tell you three things about Theresa May, three things you’ve done that I love and made me really proud as a Conservative MP, and three things you’ve said that I disagree with and don’t like. We’ll use that as a way of getting the conversation going.'

It is remarkable to think that a Prime Minister and her putative chief of staff were reduced to the kind of exercise that you would expect to find on some corporate team building day. But, perhaps, the most striking thing is how someone could come to be elected party leader, and thus Prime Minister, despite being such an enigma to most of her colleagues.