Not too long ago, Theresa May walked out the most famous door in the world and joined that most exclusive of political clubs: former Prime Ministers. May no longer dominates the Six O’Clock news and Twitter feeds, with the press now fixing their attention on Boris and Cummings. So with the loss of that most high political officer, what should May do next? The lucrative lecture tour, the insightful memoirs, or more hiking in the Swiss mountains? What can she learn from the mistakes of our other departed Prime Ministers, especially when looking at Cameron’s recent foray into writing?
Mrs May’s life will have been drastically transformed in the last few months. MPs who lose their seat speak of the change overnight in their fall from political power. This is scaled up for the role of Prime Minister. She will have gone from losing her top intel, her house, her jam-packed diary, but most of all her power. It’s not all doom and gloom, however, as she can keep her chauffeured Jaguar and be entitled to £115,000 a year to run her private office. Perhaps this change is a relief - the great burden of delivering Brexit being lifted from her shoulders - giving her the opportunity to find fulfilment in other ways. But, as she lamented in her resignation speech, she regrets not having delivered Brexit and her new found freedom may not really be what she wants.
So how could Theresa May find fulfilment? Should she follow the path of her predecessors and write down her memoirs? David Cameron has earned roughly £800,000 for his recent book and returned to the spotlight, with front page splashes and a BBC documentary on his premiership after three years of relative obscurity. He’s had the opportunity to dig the knife into old foes, remind us that he was cool with his drug fuelled school days, and apologise for his mistakes. What could be better example for Mrs May to follow when craves the publicity once again?
Hopefully, she will stay well clear of his mistakes and refrain from divulging about the Queen and annoying the palace. After dealing with Brexit and troublesome colleagues, writing a book should not be too hard for May. Maybe Mrs May should hold off on writing anything, however, until the Brexit storm has passed. By then she should know whether history will look kindly or unkindly on her. However, Winston Churchill’s outlook may offer a different tack. He once famously said: "For my part, I consider that it will be found much better by all Parties to leave the past to history, especially as I propose to write that history.”
Mrs May will also have to strike a balance between being involved in politics and not overstepping her mark. For now she has the role of MP for Maidenhead and could find fulfilment as a local MP, spending time with her constituents and keeping out of the spotlight. However, she may feel duty bound to intervene in political matters, as is her elected right as an MP - especially in light of the mass removal of the whips from the 21 rebels.
She would do well, however, to avoid the practice of some of her Tory predecessors and drop any remaining party political spats. Ted Heath’s “Incredible sulk”, which culminated in exclaiming “rejoice, rejoice, rejoice” at Thatcher's fall from power, plus Thatcher’s lack of forgiveness towards her own cabinet, including private and public dismay at Major, are not the best examples to Mrs May.
There is a lesson to be learnt between giving private and public advice. Sir John Major and Tony Blair have been fervent opponents of Brexit and have had many media appearances in which they have criticised the government’s strategy and supported a second referendum, with Major now even appearing in front of the Supreme Court to decry Boris Johnson’s prorogation as unlawful.
Meanwhile, Gordon Brown has chosen to give his advice largely in private, despite being supportive of Remain. Callaghan’s naval analogy to not “spit on the deck” after leaving office represents this apprehension of ex- Prime Ministers to intervene. Theresa May should live up to her own personal duty and give Boris Johnson advice in private, whilst not trying to impede his premiership.
Beyond the realm of all-consuming politics, May could be posted to a lucrative position in the business world, or become a chair of humanitarian and charitable causes. Many of her predecessors have done both of these things. For example, Tony Blair joined JP Morgan Chase and established his own Institute for Global Change. Gordon Brown, meanwhile, became a United Nations Special Envoy on Global Education, and the President of Alzheimer’s Research is one of David Cameron’s many roles. These examples show that the world is the oyster of an ex-Prime Minister - as long as the UK Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) allows you to take the role.
The lucrative ventures don’t stop there though. The lecture circuit has been utilised by many past Prime Ministers from Thatcher to Blair earning $250,000 for 90 minutes speeches. There are also highly paid after dinner speeches that can be delivered, such as by Sir John Major. If Theresa May wants to be more adventurous, she could take a leaf out of Harold Wilson’s book and have a chat show, but let’s hope she could last longer than his two episodes.
What does Theresa May have to fall back on once her career draws to a close? Sir John Major had his cricket, famously attending a match at The Oval after resigning. Ted Heath had his sailing and music; Winston Churchill had his painting; James Callaghan had his farm of sheep. So that leaves Mrs May with running through fields of wheat, watching NCIS, and walking through the Swiss mountains. Let’s just be thankful the latter hobby won’t lead to the calling of a new General Election.
Julia Hussain (Secretary, ex-Communications Director, The Queen’s College) is an undergraduate in her first year of reading Politics, Philosophy, and Economics.