It wasn’t the tears that did it but the speed of the turn. A flash of humanity had been allowed to break through and now it had to be shut down. There had been a crack in the voice and that would be the end of the drama thank you very much.
Other prime ministers to live through this dire moment are adjusted enough to the glare of the spotlight to find themselves able to pause, to take it in. Others have allowed themselves a moment’s daydream in the sunshine, to reflect on their achievements, all packed up into boxes now and loaded into the removal van.
Not this one. She turned away from the nation as if it were a work colleague with whom eye contact is best avoided. As she went on her short staccato steps back into 10 Downing Street, her shoulders were as tense as the rest of us are for what comes next.
She spoke of compromise. She made as clear as any politician who is as certain an enemy of clarity as she has been that whoever comes next will face the same challenges she has. But if the single tear that never quite emerged was for anything, it will be for her own personal failings as much as the impossibility of the task.
If she had given this speech three years ago things would be very different. If she had stood in the sunshine outside 10 Downing Street and said then that the only way forward is compromise, there is a slim chance Britain might be out of the European Union by now. But the urge to compromise only came after the abject failure of her utter determination not to.
When she spoke of her legacy it lasted barely 20 seconds. One of her three self-proclaimed achievements was an independent inquiry into Grenfell. Is there any prime minister, any human being, who would not have managed this?
Really, it was a speech that peaked at its opening sentence. “Ever since I first stepped through the door behind me as prime minister, I have strived to make the United Kingdom a country that works not just for a privileged few but for everyone.”
And yet, three years on here she was making way for the grandest charlatan of them all. A man who has been sacked twice for lying, and who, but for the most unimaginable privilege, would fail to hold down a job at Carphone Warehouse. The worst foreign secretary in the country’s history, and a personal, political and professional degenerate.
This, in some ways, is the best she can hope for. History will be kind to her, for no reason other than it is about to get whole orders of magnitude worse.
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