Being a ‘Lame duck’ leader doesn’t have to be lame

Yesterday, the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, won a vote of confidence held among her parliamentary colleagues with 200-117 tally. While the 117 figure looks rather high (because it is), I’m surprised it wasn’t higher given the unfortunate election campaign of 2017 and the ongoing division within the Conservative Party on the issue of Brexit.

She has also stated that she won’t be leading the Party at the next General Election in a few years time (if another snap election isn’t called). This has therefore led to claims of her being a lame duck leader. That borrowed term from our friends across the Atlantic when used in the political context, refers to someone in a position of authority who is running out of time in such a position – and everyone knows it.

This is meant to be a time when the led, take advantage of the leader as the ticking time in power renders them powerless and less influential. The usual deference starts to wane and the ability to use patronage as a means of exerting influence has less of an attraction, not so much because of the gradual loss of influence itself, but rather because of the growing jostling for power taking place around such a leader. Ambition is never lonely in the world of politics.

Which is why I might differ with some commentators about the last few years of Theresa May as Prime Minister rendering her lame politically. With Brexit very much on the cards and a greater certainty that she will lead Britain out of the EU, the ravenous revelling of pretenders to the throne present fantastic opportunities for her to cement her legacy as articulated on the steps of Downing Street when she first became Prime Minister. For a reminder of this remarkable speech, see the video above. It is quite brilliant.

She does not have to campaign for another election, worry about public opinion or even the quiet loud voices in her own Party. While others might use their last years in power touring and indulging in goodwill airs, this period potentially provide the opportunity to drive through parliament, impactful domestic policy agenda to tackle the inequalities that remain in our society. No incoming Prime Minister will want to be seen as not supporting such an agenda or reverse such reforms while taking office.

Of course, she will have to try and get these through a parliament that may well remain bogged down with Brexit. However, this is not impossible to achieve. As greater clarity descends upon minds after March 2019, while hopefully freeing up political headspace in Westminster, the Prime Minister should plough ahead with an ambitious domestic agenda to cement her planned exit from Downing Street.

She gets to choose this now. I sincerely hope that with such a choice comes a strong and revitalised desire to be remembered not just as the Brexit Prime Minister, but rather as one who despite Brexit, managed to push through further reforms of our economy to ensure that we have a fairer society where work pays, industry thrives, and effort is rewarded.

This is an opportunity that should not be missed.

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