Theresa May is in no position to lecture on moral leadership

Published by The Times (21st January, 2021)

There is a maxim in politics that leaders are defined as much by their successors as by their own triumphs and failures. So Theresa May should be delighted she was replaced as prime minister by Boris Johnson, yet instead she seems consumed with bitterness.

May has used the inauguration of a new US president to savage Johnson for abandoning Britain’s position of moral leadership. She is not wrong to make this argument but she is the wrong person to deliver it, given her own record, and she uses flimsy reasoning.

Never forget May was the architect of the Windrush scandal that so shamed our nation during her six-year stint in the Home Office. Her mania for reducing immigration led to denial of rights, wrongful detention and deportation for scores of elderly citizens. She was renowned in Whitehall for inflexibility on these issues, yet now delivers a lecture on the need for compromise.

Her term in Downing Street was comparatively brief, memorable largely for failure. Yet May still sanctioned the sale of aircraft, bombs and missiles worth £1.8 billion to Saudi Arabia, fuelling the hideous war in Yemen. She endorsed flogging arms to Turkey while its president throttled free expression, and military goods to a Chinese regime unleashing horror on Muslim minorities.

She bemoans Johnson’s ditching of the foreign aid target. But it is pure arrogance to think that spraying a few billion pounds around the world on dubious projects makes up for other diplomatic deficiencies. May, like many others, fell for the delusion that spending other people’s money in this naive way cloaks politicians with compassion. She ignores the hypocrisy of preaching on morality after pumping huge sums into the pockets of some of the most repulsive regimes in the world, undermining the efforts of those fighting for democracy.

Her government gave aid cash to China, a country rich enough to send missions to the moon while holding one million people in concentration camps. It poured money into Rwanda, trapped in the bloodstained grip of a vicious dictator, and into Uganda, where in recent days we have heard again the fury of young people over our support for an elderly autocrat refusing to relinquish control. It even assisted officials in North Korea.

May infamously declared that people who see themselves as citizens of the world fail to understand the meaning of citizenship, which hardly smacked of virtuous politics. She also once said the key thing in government is values. How sad that she seems to have discovered the value of moral leadership only after leaving office.

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