The newspapers are full of end-of-year round ups, photographic highlights of the year and so on. And I thought I would add to the melee by mentioning my ‘person of the year’. There are plenty of people who I could think of who have made my year more interesting, more enjoyable and more besides. But one person stands out for having made all of this even vaguely bearable in the first place.
My person of the year is — without doubt — Theresa May.
It’s slightly surprising because I’ve never been the biggest fan of the Prime Minister. Like most other people I have had – and will keep having – my criticisms. Her decision to call a general election earlier this year was obviously not only a disaster, but that rarest of things: something which showed Gordon Brown to have been wise.
But the PM is my person of the year for a single thing which deserves to be lauded. After she lost the election the PM could have done one obvious thing and resigned. Several accounts suggest that it was seriously considered. The PM had been under extraordinary pressure, bet the house and failed to win. For most people this would be an understandable personal as well as political humiliation. But May did something an entire generation of male Conservative politicians has failed to do. She stayed.
If bolting had not become such a male Tory pastime just think of the people who would still be in positions of power. The present cabinet could include any number of people, from the excellent Michael Portillo to the rather less excellent – but still experienced – William Hague. Instead of earning money from the Chinese it could still hold David Cameron in some senior cabinet position. Rather than editing a newspaper George Osborne could be Foreign Secretary, or almost anything else he wanted to be.
There is only one thing that Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters say about him which is true – which is that he has stuck around. He has been in Parliament with not overmuch praise for three decades when surprisingly everything fell into his lap. Being there, and just showing up turned out to matter a great deal.
If Theresa May had resigned in June this country would have been thrown into utter turmoil. A Conservative party leadership contest might have lasted months. And the country would rightly never have forgiven the party for hurtling back into civil war at such a juncture. For far more important than the reputation of the Conservative party would have been the situation of the country. Leaderless and in chaos at such a crucial juncture in our modern history would have opened every existing political wound to an extent that might have made June 24th look like a day of harmony.
So yes – Theresa May is the outstanding person of 2017. There is a tendency in politics for observers to zoom in whenever anyone does anything wrong. Of course we should continue to do this. But it is also necessary to point out when somebody does something right – and in this case doing one big thing right. Criticisms there are aplenty. And many good people remain in the wings. But in staying in place and putting her duty to the country before her personal comfort, in 2017 Theresa May exceeded all others.