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What's next for Theresa May? Top-dollar speeches or a Brexit book (most likely)

It’s Theresa May’s last day at the helm of the Conservative Party.

Conservative Party annual conference 2018 Source: PA Archive/PA Images

TODAY IS THERESA May’s last day as party leader. 

The PM officially becomes a lame duck today as the Tory leadership race gets under way, but she will stay on as premier and as acting leader until a successor is chosen. 

She was chosen to lead the Conservative Party almost three years ago, and pretty much all of her time since then has been taken up trying to navigate the Brexit process. 

When May first became leader of the Tories, she was heralded in some quarters as the ‘new Margaret Thatcher’.

Her legacy, however, has been one of repeated failures to get her Cabinet to behave, to find a way to win consensus for her Brexit deal, and to be crystal clear on what exactly her vision for Brexit is – other than limiting freedom of movement.

And she sort of predicted it. In 2002, May gave a piercing analysis of the Conservative party and the changes it would need to make, in what would be nicknamed as her “Nasty Party” speech:

Some Tories have indulged themselves in petty feuding or personal sniping instead of getting behind a leader [Iain Duncan Smith] who is doing an enormous amount to change a party which has suffered two massive landslide defeats.

“I want us to be the party that represents the whole of Britain and not merely some mythical place called ‘Middle England’, but the truth is that as our country has become more diverse, our party has remained the same.”

So, what’s next for a woman who has reached the peak of British politics, tried to reform her party, and who has been spat back out of it? Based on the experiences of previous ex British Prime Ministers (and former Taoisigh) it’s a choice between more politics, more time talking in public, or retreating entirely from it all.

Theresa May pre-Prime Minister

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph from 2012, Home Secretary Theresa May was described as being “on a roll”, and never putting “an uncalculated foot” anywhere.

A minister also apparently described her as a “combination of being fanatically loyal, fanatically dull and fanatically hard-working”, and someone “rarely caught out”.

The policies that lead to her to being widely praised included limiting non-EEA immigrants, tackling illegal immigration, proposing a stop-and-search policy, and banning the stimulant khat.

Such was her success, that she would go on to become the longest-serving Home Secretary in 60 years – renowned as a ‘safe pair of hands’.

Will she stay in politics?

President Trump state visit to UK - Day Two Clinging to power. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

“Nice try,” was the response after May was asked at her joint press conference with US President Donald Trump will she stick around to help negotiate a UK-US trade deal.

Theresa May is still an elected MP remember – meaning that she’ll go the way of Enda Kenny after he resigned as Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader, remaining as a quiet backbench politician.

But, for a woman who has suffered constant batterings from the UK media, the sharp criticisms from her party colleagues, and endless mockings on social media, she still professes that the premiership of a country she cares for is a job she “loved”. 

Other former Prime Ministers, including Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, have recently reemerged in the British media to give their views on Brexit. Our own former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has done the same, and sparked rumours that he was preparing to make a presidential bid.

Will she write a book?

Of her predecessors, Gordon Brown published Beyond the Crash: Overcoming the first crisis of globalisation, while Blair has published his memoirs A Journey.

Some of Ireland’s own politicians have had their moment in the literary sun; former Justice Minister Alan Shatter has just published his book on his departure from politics, for instance. 

“Normally the option for EU leaders who have resigned would be the book offers, and offers for memoirs coming in,” Richard Moore, managing director of MComm Communications and a former senior political advisor, said. 

“She’s probably at the cutting edge of recent British history. She took over from David Cameron, who is seen as one of the worst leaders Britain has ever had by throwing the dice on Brexit, and she will want to tell her side of the story.”

Will she give public talks?

Blair was at one time considered one of the highest-paid speakers in the world, with a two-year waiting list for bookings, earning up to $250,000 for a 90-minute speech, according to a Daily Telegraph article.

On the other hand, he’s come under criticism for using his former position in public office to make a profit: he’s denied reports that he had a personal fortune of £100m, insisting that it’s closer to £20m.

Not an inspiring speaker by any stretch, May has been repeatedly chastised for her speeches on Brexit, as repetitive, lacking in substance, and failing to unite the country on Brexit.

From “strong and stable government,” to “Brexit means Brexit, and we’re going to make a success of it,” to “No deal is better than a bad deal”, we’re left with a wealth of statements for which May was lambasted.

But she wasn’t always like that; some of her speeches from her time as Tory party chair are quite prophetic, as well as packing a punch:

One of the things that people hate most about modern politics is the almost mindless partisanship that passes for debate. Ya-boo, Punch and Judy, call it what you will, the public is sick of it.
While the parties shout at each other, no one outside the Westminster village pays attention to any of it. People just switch off.

She also holds a unique insight into the turbulent world of Brexit: the late-night negotiations, the high-stakes disagreements, and the lying-in-wait colleagues all around her. Let’s hope she does give us a bit of insight into that – it might at least go some way towards explaining how we’ve ended up where we are now.

Earlier this year, Boris Johnson was paid €58,000 for a 25-minute speech at the €795-a-ticket Dublin conference Pendulum. DCU’s Brexit Institute has also requested speakers for specific events, including former leaders of European countries.

So would they book Theresa May?

“We definitely would,” Federico Fabbrini, director of the DCU Brexit Institute, said.

“She has been the architect of the Withdrawal Agreement, that is still her legacy. The Brexit deal is on the shelf at the moment, and realistically it won’t be resumed any time soon.”

When asked whether her speeches would be more interesting once she is out of office, Fabbrini said that was difficult to say.

Moore said that a published book or memoir would open doors to give talks at speaker summits.

“The initial couple of years is the most important for leaders to cash in as speakers.The window to cash in is about 4-5 years, Theresa May could earn well in excess of £100,000, maybe up to £200,000 at these special events.

I couldn’t see her lasting as long as Blair, but Brexit is a story that won’t stop – it’s a gift that will keep on giving in that sense. Her key point would be that she was at the tiller when a country appeared to lose the run of itself. 

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