Flop of the Year: Theresa May snatches defeat from the jaws of victory

In years to come, Theresa May's 2017 may come to adorn comms and campaigning textbooks as an example of exactly how not to do it.

How not to do it: Theresa May in 2017 (©GettyImages)
How not to do it: Theresa May in 2017 (©GettyImages)

In late 2016, the Prime Minister was riding high, a popular leader among the Conservative Party and beyond, with modernising credentials and a mandate to deliver Brexit. But as 2017 began, cracks began to emerge.

She didn’t come across well in an (admittedly tricky) visit to new US president Donald Trump, and uncertainty over Brexit became the dominant narrative in what felt like a meandering run-up to the triggering of Article 50 in March. This emboldened critics, yet support remained high; YouGov data showed net favourability of 10 per cent when May triggered a general election, making her a dead cert to increase her majority.

The rest is history. Having lost two members of her comms team, May refused to participate in TV debates, and made her ‘dementia tax’ U-turn worse by insisting that it wasn’t a U-turn. Her painful repetition of the "strong and stable" slogan, the appearance of dodging interactions with the press or members of the public, and the cringeworthy "fields of wheat" anecdote conspired to obliterate her majority.

A botched post-election visit to the devastated Grenfell Tower only reinforced her ‘robotic’ image as Jeremy Corbyn kept breathing down her neck, boosting his popularity with appearances at both Grenfell and Glastonbury.

As the year progressed and her allies began to turn on her, the party rank-and-file were willing her to make amends at the Conservative Party Conference. A coughing fit, a protester and some falling letters just seemed to prove that even factors seemingly beyond her control would inevitably work against her.

The vicar’s daughter has tried but failed to look tough on the subject of abuse and harassment in Westminster, and her deputy Damian Green’s alleged pornography consumption has wrested control over the news cycle from May’s grasp once more.

In one respect, her year drew to a close as it began, with criticism of her dealings with Trump. In another, much had changed – YouGov’s latest figures show Corbyn and the Labour Party’s popularity approaching or even eclipsing that of May and the Tories. Two words spring to mind: ‘annus’ and ‘horribilis’.

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