Theresa May: Compromise should not be a poisonous word in politics

Theresa May urged compromise as an honourable solution in politics during a period she describes as the most divisive for Westminster she has experienced in her lifetime.

“Compromise is not a poisonous word. You should not have to be 100 per cent with someone or 100 per cent against. Polarisation is bad for politics,” she said.

She was speaking at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival where she lambasted her “bete noire” – social media.

“It amplifies extreme views which then become accepted views unless we are very careful,” she said.

The former prime minister was reflecting on a parliamentary career which began when she was elected the Conservative MP for Maidenhead in the second-worst defeat for her party in its history.

As party chair, she famously warned the Tories of not being “the nasty party” and would later go on to be home secretary for the entire David Cameron government.

Ms May emerged as the leader to replace Mr Cameron from a brutal contest in the wake of the EU referendum which saw her as the last candidate standing.

But by early 2019 she was forced out by an increasingly fractious party fighting a civil war with itself.

Perhaps reflecting on Boris Johnson taking over from her, she said: “We live today in a world of celebrity. It becomes more about the celebrity and not the politics.”

“No one can accuse me of being the celebrity. I was the Maybot,” she joked about her being characterised as wooden by media pundits.

She also spoke of the unfair treatment of her final appearance outside No 10 Downing Street when she was filmed crying at the end of her farewell address.

“A man in that position would have been applauded, while in a woman it is seen as a sign of weakness,” she said.

Ms May explained that she regretted showing so much emotion but that it was an impulsive reaction to how much she cared about trying to do the best for her country. She won a round of applause at the festival for her candour as well as for her campaigns to help victims of modern slavery.

She also spoke movingly of equality for women.

“Fortunately, my parents were always supportive and wanted me to do my best and what was needed to achieve that,” she said.

She recalled how in the 1980s when she was helping a local school to find a new headteacher, one candidate had said that some girls could just become hairdressers rather than strive to seek other more ambitious career paths.

She disagreed with such closing down of opportunities for women, and chose a teacher who wanted to empower choice and opportunity. “If you ignore 50 per cent of the talent in the world you are losing out on having 100 per cent of people with a chance to make things better,” she said.

She was asked about the absence of Brexit as a subject in the upcoming general election after Michael Heseltine said in The Independent that the refusal to have it as a central subject made this the most dishonest election ever.

On Brexit she refused to brand it as a failure or a success, though she conceded there were local firms which had suffered as a result of the border controls. She said it was too early to make a final judgement, as Covid and the Ukraine war skewed the analysis.

Finally, on holding hands with Donald Trump in the famous footage of her with the then US President at the White House, she insisted she had not grabbed his hand.

“I should point out that he held mine! We were walking along, and he said ‘there’s a bit of a slope here’. I was not worried. I had a pair of kitten heels on. Was he genuinely being a gentleman or was he worried about walking down the slope ?” Ms May did not disclose his intention.