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May is proof there is more to leadership than wielding power

Saturday July 14 2018

Theresa May

UK Prime Minister Theresa May When she took over office, was hailed as a great, reliable and strong leader walking in the footsteps of the first female UK PM, Margaret Thatcher. PHOTO | POOL | RUSSELL CHEYNE | AFP 

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When she took over office, UK Prime Minister Theresa May was hailed as a great, reliable and strong leader walking in the footsteps of the first female UK PM, Margaret Thatcher.

She inherited the PM position from David Cameron after the 2016 Brexit referendum that has since divided the country and, undeniably, the Conservative party to which she belongs.

In the heady days when she took over, she rode the wave of praises from the masses, when she came to power under the two banners; ‘strong and stable’ and ‘Brexit means Brexit!’ This was rather ambitious on May’s part.


What May did not appreciate was she was not getting into office on a party manifesto where everything had been agreed on and everyone was seamlessly pursuing the same agenda.

No country had ever voted to leave the European Union and inevitably there was no plan, or framework to work towards. This made for a rather bizarre Cabinet pick as she and her team worked towards the unknown.


If anything, Brexiteers had not expected to win the referendum. They had only sought to ruffle a few feathers. But they found themselves in power with a vision that had no plan.


This was the birth of the Brexit Cabinet. It was filled with extremists from both sides and a few perceived neutrals.

Nothing was ever going to be amicably agreed on, it was all going to be a negotiation. May made the first concession herself by deliberately including strong individuals from both sides of the Brexit debate.

Inevitably, her Cabinet was divided from day one and there was no point in time where unity was ever going to be feasible. Strong and stable was now overhauled by headstrong individuals causing a rift that in turn created a feeble government.

Brexiteers v Remainers, all were there to best serve the side they campaigned for in the referendum.


In the two years she has been in office, May has lost the parliamentary majority after the unnecessary snap election of 2017, as she sought to extend her party’s already substantial majority. She has also had seven Cabinet Secretaries resign, two of them this week, less than 24 hours apart.

How has she survived so many resignations, you may ask? Brexit divided the party’s vote among Brexiteers and Remainers.

In this divide there is no one deemed neutral enough to be appointed party leader and take over as PM.

And so, due to lack of a ‘competent’ leader, Theresa May has survived time and time again.

The last two resignations of the Brexit and Foreign secretaries were fuelled by May's decision to offer concessions on the fundamental is-sues that make Brexit; taking back control of laws, borders and expenditure.


These concessions have betrayed democracy and the popular vote. The country seems plunged into what will become a series of concessions being made to appease both ends, but to the detriment of those who truly and wholly voted to leave the EU.

With the resignation of Boris Johnson and David Davis who were strongly pro-Brexit, it is quite possible a second referendum may be sought to decide the final position if any.

Albeit a bit dramatic in his resignation letter, Johnson was right.

“The dream is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt," he said. “In that respect we are truly headed for the status of colony.”


But for the UK to remain a colony to the EU is far from it. The country will be required to give regard and precedence to EU law and court rulings on EU-related matters.

In fact, the European Court of Justice would remain supreme on these matters. The UK also proposes a free trade area of goods with existing customs for agriculture and manufacturing.

The ‘harmonisation’ thus appears to be carrying on as it was. Really, it will be like they never left. To what end then, was the Brexit referendum?

A word to the wise. If you are ever in charge, never chose individuals you know are highly likely to work against you.

They will only waste your time and everyone else's as they revolt to make sure you never succeed or get anything done!

But, if you are lucky and there is no one that people can unequivocally agree on to lead, you could keep dodging the oncoming vote of no confidence, remaining in power until a new, vibrant and robust leader emerges.

The lesson we are learning from all this is that it appears there is a new category of leadership competency; non-competence.

In the recent NTV interview, Deputy President William Ruto remarked that “the biggest threat to Kenya is not necessarily’s actually leadership that has no vision, that is incompetent, that has no plan.” This may ring true for Kenya as it does for the UK.

Burini works with international businesses on commercial litigation. [email protected]