THE END OF MAY: History will be kind to the PM who had an impossible task, says ROSS CLARK

THE END OF MAY: History will be kind to the PM who had an impossible task, says ROSS CLARK

Yet if we really think Mrs May deserves an ignominious place at the very bottom of the pile of British PMs, it proves only that we have very short memories. Excruciating though the latter months of her time at Number 10 have been, we have had far worse incumbents. It is easy to pick apart her premiership, and not just over Brexit. Where are the grammar schools she promised? In what sense has she put right the "burning injustices" she mentioned in her first speech as prime minister? Whatever happened to the "lowest energy prices in Europe" she promised in her 2017 election manifesto (the latest comparison shows Britain 18th out of 32 European countries for domestic electricity bills).

Certainly, if Conservative MPs knew about Mrs May in 2016 what they know about her now, they would never have put her top of the leadership ballot – a position from which she won by default after Andrea Leadsom withdrew from the contest.

At the time, it seemed she would turn out to be a tough negotiator – a "bloody difficult woman" as Ken Clarke described her.

No one was to know how she would allow herself to be cornered by an obstinate Michel Barnier – refusing to play the card she had herself promised to play, threatening a "no-deal" Brexit.

It would have seemed inconceivable that having produced a deal that had little support in the Commons, she would plug on with it, suffering defeat after defeat.

MPs can be forgiven, too, for failing to realise what a wooden candidate Mrs May would turn out to be in the 2017 general election.

If there is one point at which her fortunes turned, it was refusing to turn out for the TV debates – in one case sending along with her home secretary, Amber Rudd, even though Msis Rudd had just suffered the loss of her father.

What MPs in 2016 might have appreciated, on the other hand, were Mrs May's serious failures as home secretary.

It was she who in 2014 changed the rules to make it much more difficult for police to carry out "stop and search" – a move which immediately reversed what had been a sustained fall in knife crime.

But to declare Mrs May Britain's worst-ever prime minister on the strength of this is grossly unfair.

It is simply untrue that she leaves no positive legacy.

How about the lowest unemployment in 45 years?

Mrs Thatcher, during whose premiership unemployment reached three million, would have loved to have left office with such a boast.

Better still, Mrs May has achieved record-low unemployment while simultaneously raising the national living wage to £8.21 – defying the CBI's insistence that it would cost jobs.

Real wage growth is rising strongly and the deficit is down to £25billion – still too high, given that governments should be running surpluses in the good times in order to build a war chest for the bad, but progress nonetheless.

The economy has continued to grow in spite of constant attempts by Remainers to talk it down.

Businesses have continued to invest in Britain – in spite of closures in long-declining industries such as steel.

For both economic growth and foreign investment, Britain is outstripping the eurozone.

Yet hardly anyone bothers to champion Mrs May's economic legacy.

It just gets trodden into the great swamp of Brexit.

No previous PM has had to cope with a country as sectarian as Britain has become since the Brexit referendum – but most would have been found wanting had they done so.

Moreover, plenty of previous prime ministers have failed on the economy.

For national humiliation, nothing beats the Callaghan government having to go to the IMF, after its tax-and-spend policies proved ruinous.

Mrs May hasn't gambled and lost billions as John Major did with Britain's membership of the Exchange Rate Mechanism.

As for political humiliation, Mrs May has not led us into disastrous wars as Anthony Eden and Tony Blair did.

She hasn't taken on trade unions and lost as Edward Heath and Jim Callaghan did.

Mrs May deserves a place firmly in the lower half of Britain's prime ministers.

But if you want to try to put her at the very bottom, she faces some pretty stiff competition.

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