ANALYSIS: Theresa May proves once again that the lady is for turning

Posted On: 
22nd May 2017

When you're whole schtick is "strong and stable", it is probably a good idea, when things get a little tough, to show some strength and stability.

Theresa May's social care climbdown is the latest in a line of U-turns.
Credit: 
PA Images

Theresa May's announcement this morning that she does support a cap on social care costs after all is surely the first example of a party U-turning on its manifesto even before the election has taken place.

Four days of reasonably negative headlines in less-than-friendly newspapers - plus a growing backlash among many Conservatives aghast at their party's vanishing poll lead - had managed to draw a humiliating climbdown from the Prime Minister.

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But should we really be all that surprised? For if Mrs May's time in Number 10 has taught us anything, it is that she is prepared to change her mind when she deems it politically convenient.

Here are the five major U-turns of the Prime Minister's time in office:

Her propensity for dropping ideas at the first sign of trouble first emerged last July, shortly before her coronation as PM. While still campaigning to be Tory leader, Mrs May said her Government would make sure there would be "not just consumers represented on company boards, but employees as well".

So far, so straightforward. Except when business leaders made it clear they weren't too keen on the idea, she decided to water it down. In November, Mrs May said she now wanted to consult on how to “ensure the employee voice is heard” - a pretty significant dilution of her original proposal.

In January, after a pretty successful visit to Washington to meet Donald Trump, she flew back to London and into the eye of a diplomatic storm.

While on the Turkish leg of the trip, Mrs May had repeatedly refused to disavow the US president after he announced he was going ahead with his ban on visitors from some mainly-Muslim countries.

After learning that her stance had not gone down well at home, a late-night statement was hurried out by Downing Street, declaring: "We do not agree with this kind of approach and it is not one we will be taking."

The next U-turn was much more high profile, and far more embarrassing. Philip Hammond's Budget promised to put up National Insurance contributions for the self-employed, despite the Government's triple tax lock pledging to freeze the rates of NIC, VAT and income tax.

A week later, and in the face a mounting backlash from Tory MPs, the Chancellor sent them a letter stating: "It is very important both to me and the Prime Minister that we are compliant not just with the letter, but also the spirit, of the commitments that were made.

"In light of what has emerged as a clear view among colleagues and a significant section of the public, I have decided not to proceed with the Class 4 NIC measures set out in the Budget."

The fact that we are now less than three weeks away from another general election is also the product of a May U-turn.

Despite her slim majority and consistently favourable opinion poll lead, Theresa May had repeatedly assured voters she would not go to the country before 2020. "It's not something she plans to do or wishes to do," a Downing Street source said - presumably with a straight face - on 7 March.

Yet barely a month later, the Prime Minister returned from an Easter walking holiday in Wales to announce that she did, after all, need to seek her own mandate. The reason, we were told, was that she needed a thumping majority to get a good Brexit deal. 

Which brings us to today's latest volte face. Labour would dearly love to convince the country that Theresa May is simply Margaret Thatcher in better shoes.

But the truth is that, unlike her predecessor, Mrs May most definitely is for turning.