In Depth

May at 10: five things we learned about Theresa

New book reveals behind-the-scenes struggles at Downing Street

Theresa May’s secret struggles during her tenure as prime minister are laid bare in a new tell-all biography to be released next week.

May at 10, written by historian Sir Anthony Seldon, examines the former Tory leader’s role in the 2016 Brexit referendum, her arrival at Downing Street and the 2017 general election in which she lost her majority in Parliament. Here are five things we’ve learnt from the book, to be published on 7 November.

Cried over EU referendum result

May shed a tear on hearing that Britain had voted to leave the EU in 2016, according to former close adviser Nick Timothy.

As The Times reports, when Timothy phoned her after the results came in, May “was so distraught that she was in tears”. 

Biography author Seldon writes that Timothy and fellow aide Fiona Hill “saw her cry only half a dozen times in their entire career together, and then it was mainly from frustration. But now there was sadness too.” 

A “surly” and “terrible campaigner”

The new book claims that May became increasingly “grumpy” during the 2017 general election campaign, according to the Daily Express.

And after facing a backlash over her her social care reform, which was dubbed the dementia tax, the then PM “began to crumble”. Adviser Hill, who travelled with May for much of the campaign, told Seldon: “She was surly and not particularly pleasant. She was very quiet and seemed unhappy.”

Another former aide added: “She was a terrible campaigner. She came across as grumpy, entitled and expecting to win, and then visibly irritated when she came under scrutiny.”

Uncomfortable in spotlight 

Seldon claims that May did not want the Conservative Party’s 2017 general election campaign to be focused on her personality and complained that she was “not comfortable” with being treated like a “presidential candidate”, the Daily Mirror reports.

The PM did not want the party’s message “to be about me”, according to the book, which concludes that the campaign “cruelly exposed her unusually inflexible and introverted character”.

Opposed to “strong and stable” slogan

They became the buzzwords of the election campaign, but May reportedly disliked the phrase “strong and stable”.

The Guardian adds that despite being the Tory leader, May “did not appear to have the final say over some of the messaging” chosen in the bid to claim an election victory.

Blamed advisors for 2017 election result

According to the biography, May turned on her advisors in the wake of the disastrous election result, telling Timothy and Hill that they would have to resign. The PM is said to have “complained bitterly”, claiming “that she had done exactly what they had told her to do and this was the result”, according to The Times

Yet she would later be accused of cronyism after including both Timothy and Hill in her 2019 resignation honours list.

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