Although May has won some praise for her ability to fend off any attempt to topple her, a rift appears to be growing between her leadership style and what Britons expect of their leader. According to a recent poll by the Hansard Society, a British research group, and Ipsos MORI, voters are increasingly disgruntled by the Brexit chaos, which has widened polarization over the European Union.
Parliament has blocked May’s attempts to push through a deal reached with E.U. negotiators, but also has not voted for an alternative path. The head of the opposition Labour Party recently agreed to sit down with May to try to find a compromise, but it is unclear whether those talks will lead anywhere.
Britain was supposed to leave the European Union on March 29 but sought a short-term extension. Further extensions still need to be agreed on, but not doing so could lead to a no-deal scenario that would severely damage the E.U. and Britain.
As uncertainty has grown for members of Parliament, businesses and voters since the fateful referendum three years ago, so has hope among constituents for a strong leader — and May’s approval ratings indicate that a majority of Britons think she does not meet that criterion. Confidence in the British political system in general is at a 15-year low — the first time it has fallen this far since the Iraq War, which led to a major backlash nationwide.
71 percent of respondents agreed that British parties are so divided “within themselves that they cannot serve the best interests of the country.”
The poll was conducted mostly in December, and subsequent Brexit meltdowns have caused a further erosion of public trust in the political system.
The poll findings are likely to concern democracy researchers, however, as they indicate that a majority of respondents — 54 percent — would approve of a leader willing to break the rules.
May doesn’t appear to be ready to go. Over the weekend, she shared a video on Twitter that attempted to explain the latest political chaos. Her tone was conversational and much more relaxed than usual. Online, her new and less “robotic” approach did not go unnoticed.
Although the video tries to humanize her as a leader, it’s worth noting that it might be too late for a re-brand. Since coming to power over two years ago, May has been accused of an inability to forge a meaningful connection with the British public. Her actions after 2017′s Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 72 people, earned her much criticism, with residents of the building and other locals expressing disgust and hurt that she did not meet with survivors during her visit to the site in London.
British rapper Stormzy joined the chorus of voices criticizing May and her government in the wake of the disaster, using an unwavering freestyle on live television to demand answers and money for those affected. May later acknowledged that her handling of the incident was wrong and expressed regret for not meeting with Grenfell Tower residents. The apology notwithstanding, her apparent lack of empathy for those who needed it most continues to linger in the public consciousness.
May also has been criticized for her hand-holding with President Trump, recent Brexit negotiations with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and her insistence on not having a second referendum on Brexit.
Her supporters argue that she is still cleaning up former prime minister David Cameron’s mess. After all, he called the 2016 referendum and then resigned, leaving the country in disarray.
May was never expected to become a popular leader, given the challenges she faced, and her approval ratings recently reached record lows. Her days at 10 Downing Street may be numbered, but the bigger question for analysts is what kind of lasting damage three years of Brexit uncertainty has created and whether the desire for a leader with almost authoritarian character traits is here to stay.
Scott Clement contributed to this post.