On Wednesday, UK Prime Minister Theresa May clung on to the party leadership after a no-confidence motion within the Conservative Party, winning the vote 200-117. While this buys her a year before a spill can happen again (stability rules prevent another vote before 12 months) it hardly seems likely to settle the matter.

Quite apart from the difficulty of negotiating Britain’s overwhelmingly complicated and fraught exit from the European Union, surrounded by saboteurs, May is a politician most acquainted with misfortune, someone with a near supernatural ability to attract calamity and awkwardness. She makes Ed Miliband look like Miles Davis. 

Let’s look back on some of her best moments, and look forward to 12 more months of May.

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The campaign

In the final days before the general election she called to assert her authority over her new party — which didn’t go great — May sat down with ITV News, for one of those “humanising” interviews.  Whatever else it taught us about May was completely overshadowed when she was asked about the naughtiest thing she had done as a child. A slam dunk for a savvy politician, a chance to establish one’s charm and relatability. Having paused for a long time, she could conjure nothing more exciting than “run through fields of wheat” with a friend. She added that the local farmers “weren’t too pleased about that”. 

The party conference

This is perhaps the height of May’s curious combination of ill fortune and bad judgement. 

During this same campaign, came the Conservative Party conference, where May, facing subversion from former foreign secretary and giant scarecrow baby Boris Johnson, needed things to go well. They very much did not. Firstly, throughout her speech, she just couldn’t stop coughing, and as a result, when she spoke, her voice sounded dry and shaky.

Then, during the speech, a “P45” form — what you need to fill out to get unemployment benefits in the UK — was waved at her by a prankster named Brodkin, who had somehow gotten within brandishing distance of her podium. She ignored it for as long as she could, presumably hoping security would get its act together and when that took too long, she accepted it with a sigh. “Boris told me to do it!” he yelled as he was finally taken away. 

It managed to get worse. As she spoke, one of the letters of slogan posted behind her: “Building a Country That Works For Everyone” flopped, dispirited, to the floor. Perfectly, it was the “F”, leaving her slogan to read: “Building a Country That Works Or Everyone.”

As Guy Rundle wrote at the time: “Yes, no one can help having a cough. But politics is theatre and spectacle, and an inability to get basic things right — tight security, the solidity of the set — magnifies bad luck, until the effect is unavoidable.”

The dance

Earlier this year, May threw some shapes with kids in South Africa, and sure, it was wooden and conducted with all the comfort of someone picking up the concept of dance with tweezers. But people are suckers for a politician mucking about with kids, and the public response was pretty good. 

(Image: PA Wire/Stefan Rousseau)

Some adviser must have decided it really was a winner, because May seemingly was now not permitted to stop dancing. She did it again in Kenya. And then, at this year’s party conference, she was required to to do it a third time, sauntering onto stage to the strains of Dancing Queen. 

The car

As the Prime Minister arrived in Berlin for talks with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, she managed to get locked in her own car, with Merkel standing awkwardly a few feet away. Just as with the F-drop above, it was a simulacra of a Veep or The Thick of It scene. You could almost hear the silence of her minders as they watched her on TV, slowly realising she was trapped in the back of her own car, foiled by a lock made to outwit children.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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