There's Nothing About May

The UK has a strong tradition of political satire. We love to poke fun at our politicians, and perhaps no one did it better than Spitting Image. The gross exaggerations of politician’s physical appearances as puppets were matched by the gross exaggerations of their personalities. The key to creating a good satirical caricature is to take one or a few quirks and mannerisms the real life figure has, and magnify them to the point of absurdity. With Thatcher, you take her strictness and turn it into her physically beating her cabinet with a ruler.

This has normally been quite a simple task with our political leaders. With Blair you take his everyman, polished ease with public speaking and turn him into a PR robot. With Cameron you take his desire to appear like one of the lads despite being an out of touch Etonian and turn it into an alien desperately trying to blend in with his fellow humans. With May you take her… you take her… what do you take?

Theresa May by Tolga Akmen for AP

Theresa May by Tolga Akmen for AP

Visually, she’s easy for cartoonists to caricature. She’s got the bad posture, chunky jewelry and leopard print heels. Vocally, you just need to sound like a teenager who’s voice is breaking during a bout of tonsillitis. Her political short-sightedness and stubbornness are also easy to lampoon. But when it comes to finding an element of personality to magnify, you come across a problem; she has none.

I was recently asked to write some monologues for the character of Theresa May to deliver for a project I’m working on. I set about watching her speeches and Prime Minister’s Questions appearances to try and better be able to capture her voice, and the main thing that struck me was how boring she was. Watching Laura Kuenssberg’s Brexit documentary this week, she described May as abhorring small talk and gossip, only wanting to talk about things that matter. When you ask her what her hobbies are, she’ll tell you walking and cooking, two things that most people do everyday out of necessity. Infamously, most rebellious thing she has ever done was she to run through a field of wheat.

Even those who are apparently close to her struggle to discern a personality. A Tory MP was recently introduced by the BBC as May’s close friend, to which the MP laughed as declared “I know her but I wouldn’t describe us as friends.” When asked for an entertaining anecdote about her, her old parliamentary campaign manager Sam Olsen said “She likes to drink a St Clements. And she never swears.” I scoured the internet for a good half an hour while writing this looking for someone telling a funny, or at least charming story of an encounter with her, and came up with nothing.

So how do you write a caricature of someone with nothing to caricaturise? The obvious answer would be to parody her lack of personality, but in practice this can be just as boring as the real thing. Satirical comedy needs to be big and brash. It seems that the answer that most writers have landed on is to create your own personality for her.

You could just pull one out of thin air, but you can also reverse engineer one from her political actions. Her way of governing is to play things very close to her chest. From her time as Home Secretary and continuing into her role as Prime Minister, she has always relied on a tight inner circle of advisers. If you are outside of this circle, then she is known to be deeply untrusting. From this you can infer a very paranoid personality, with her believing everyone is out to get her. Members of her party reportedly, and disturbingly, refer to her as “Mummy”. This might say more about the classic posh man’s oedipus complex, but you can also infer a strict, nanny like character onto May. This drives comparisons to Thatcher, that May consistently fails to live up to. So you can then steal some of Thatcher’s characteristics and add an ineptitude to them, and the pressure of living in the Iron Lady’s shadow.

However, it appears that all of this effort to capture her traits will be in vain, and that we will soon have another leader to satirise. There are three front-runners, Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson. My personal choice out of this nightmare fuck, marry, kill would be the more moderate Hunt, as May was my preferred choice during her leadership contest. But us comedy writers will all perversely be wishing for the easier job that would come with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.