Anas Hassan: Theresa May is no Margaret Thatcher

CommonSpace columnist Anas Hassan argues that comparisons between Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May misunderstand the profound challenges the UK’s new prime minister will face in the aftermath of Brexit 

IT IS fundamentally wrong to conclude that Theresa May is the 21st century equivalent to Margaret Thatcher. Observers of politics all over have jumped towards this bizarre notion like a fish would jump to water. Times between now and three decades ago are radically different.

The Conservative Party can rightly take credit that they have been successful where their main opponents have not, in that they have produced two women as prime minister of the United Kingdom. Perhaps this is the main reason why so many people try to draw comparisons between the two politicians.

This is in a sense understandable. Politics still remains male dominated after all and progress towards a widely acceptable level of gender equality remains slow. But May and Thatcher remain two political figures with many differences and different challenges. We are not in Back To The Future after all.

The Conservative Party can rightly take credit that they have been successful where their main opponents have not, in that they have produced two women as prime minister of the United Kingdom.

When Thatcher was heading towards the end of her time at Downing Street, she memorably emphasized "No! No! No!" in the House of Commons over the idea of the British Parliament losing power to Brussels. It will never truly be known which way she would have voted in this past summer's EU referendum, despite whatever speculation and debate can arise.

But alas, the United Kingdom stunned the world by backing the intention of leaving the European Union. May was noted for backing a Remain vote, but since entering through the door of Number Ten, she has consistently, repeatedly and unambiguously stated, "Brexit means Brexit".

She then sometimes follows those three words with "we are going to make the most of it" - which to be fair, can be open to interpretation. Nobody, not even May herself I suspect, truly knows what Brexit is going to finally look like. Will the UK still have full access to the European single market or will it be a case of a full cheerio to the rest of the European continent altogether?

Will the UK still have full access to the European single market or will it be a case of a full cheerio to the rest of the European continent altogether?

The irony of June's vote is that it has opened up a can of worms rather than put the lid firmly on the jar of political jam. May faces a political challenge as prime minister the likes of which Thatcher never faced three decades ago and arguably it is the biggest one since the outbreak of the second world war.

And unlike Thatcher, May might soon realise that much of her time in office will be about attempting to drive events in her political favour rather than set her own political ideals upon the UK. The latter also has inherited a chaotic legacy left behind by her predecessor.

Much of what could be about to unfold will mean that the full blame doesn't necessarily fall upon the current MP for Maidenhead. After all, why should May resign as prime minister if Brexit leads to the eventual break-up of the United Kingdom? She didn't open Pandora's Box when it came to the Scottish constitutional question.

Why should May resign as prime minister if Brexit leads to the eventual break-up of the United Kingdom? She didn't open Pandora's Box when it came to the Scottish constitutional question.

But that last point is, in a way, harsh towards David Cameron. After decades of the issue of self-determination growing and growing, the former MP for Witney attempted to call Alex Salmond and the SNP's bluff and, to an extent, was successful. The end of the Act of Union 1707 did not happen on Cameron's watch after all.

But the issue of Scottish independence remains. It is a real possibility that May will have to eventually allow for a second Scottish independence referendum to take place. When quizzed by Andrew Marr on BBC One about the issue, she wasn't capable of slamming the door shut. In a sense, she does realise that taking such an action could be very counterproductive.

In the end, Thatcher is and will continue to be synonymous with "Thatcherism". It is conceivable that ‘Mayism’ might never be a fully substantiated political ideology. May has entered the most chaotic and turbulent period of British politics for over seventy years. How she does overall and how long she governs as UK Prime Minister is yet to be seen.

Picture courtesy of Chris Devers

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