The new British Prime Minister Theresa May’s choice of sports hero tells a lot about her.
He is Geoffrey Boycott, the legendary English cricketer known for his obsession for protecting his wicket and piling up his runs in a very slow, deliberative manner.
May is from Oxfordshire, the daughter of a vicar (and yet she attended Catholic school) and there is much about her careful and considered personality that would be similar to Boycott’s. She is one of those politicians who rose without trace, was never considered seriously as a leadership contender and was disliked by David Cameron until she turned in a highly successful period as Home Secretary, one of the key cabinet jobs.
One Conservative Party colleague described her to The Financial Times as “dull, boring, ambitious.”
She refuses to do most TV interviews, keeps her private life private and is considered an enigmatic figure by many close colleagues. She is far from the kind of blow-dried modern candidate Cameron was, for instance.
Yet when the stars capsized and Cameron took his inexplicable gamble and lost the Brexit vote as well as his leadership, it was May who, turtle-like, moved in to pick up the pieces.
Even her win in the race for prime minister was spectacularly stolid. She let the preening peacocks such as Michael Gove and Boris Johnson run their flighty course, and was there at the end when their best laid plans crashed and sent them into political oblivion.
Likewise May’s other challenger for the leadership, Andrea Leadsom, destroyed her own campaign as soon as it started by making a much criticized statement that because she had children and May does not, she had a bigger stake in Britain’s future.
So May emerged through the mistakes of others rather than any brilliance herself to become the second British prime minister of the female gender, alongside Margaret Thatcher.
She joins Angela Merkel and, soon perhaps, Hillary Clinton as female leaders who have overcome gender and political bias to win their nation’s top office.
In fairness, May does not lack political courage. In the midst of many police corruption scandals she fearlessly addressed a stunned Police Federation annual conference in Bournemouth.
Here is how The Financial Times reported it: “Standing in front of a hall full of mainly male police officers, Britain’s home secretary fixed her audience with a piercing stare as she painstakingly listed the corruption, incompetence, racism and gross misconduct that had scarred policing for more than 20 years. In the past she had been jeered and booed by the Police Federation but this time the reaction was different: silence.”
It was the first glimpse of May’s willingness to take bold political positions. Unlike Thatcher she is a social liberal, approving of gender equality and gay marriage. She mocks those who want the mythical Middle England of long ago.
Irish and EU officials will have breathed a sigh of relief that May has emerged. Technically she supported the Remain side in Brexit, but uttered her support so softly that most missed it.
Her only controversial moment was during a visit to Northern Ireland when she noted that if Brexit happened borders would have to go up in the North because the Irish Republic was in the EU and Britain was not.
EU and Irish leaders will appreciate, however, that she is a moderate compared to those she ran against. Born Theresa Brasier, she married Phillip May, an investment banker. She was recently diagnosed as diabetic and takes a daily insulin shot.
She may also be the shot in the arm a dispirited Tory Party needs to bounce back.