Berkshire

Theresa May: Former PM heads back to Maidenhead

Theresa May Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Theresa May has left Downing Street for a final time after three years

As Theresa May left 10 Downing Street for the last time, it may have seemed like she had few friends left in Westminster. But, as she prepares for life on the backbenches, there is one place where the outgoing prime minister will be welcomed with open arms.

Maidenhead, in Berkshire, has had only one MP since it became a political constituency in 1997.

For 22 years, Theresa May has seen off a series of challengers in successive general elections - including a memorable skirmish with Lord Buckethead of the Gremloids party in 2017.

But what is behind her enduring popularity? And are the people of Maidenhead still backing her despite her failure to deliver Brexit?

In her three years as PM, Mrs May faced criticism on the national stage, particularly for her negotiations with the EU and over her record as Home Secretary.

But, back home, her popularity seemed to grow, with her netting 64.8% of her constituents' vote two years ago.

'Hardly been away'

On the streets of Maidenhead, it is difficult to find anyone with a bad word to say about Mrs May.

Christine Harding, 68, was unequivocal in her praise.

"She's been wonderful for this constituency," she said.

During her time as an MP, Mrs Harding said, Mrs May had supported schools, clubs and the elderly.

"She is fantastic, she involves herself in a lot of local things," she said.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption As Prime Minister, Theresa May speaks with a butcher in her constituency of Maidenhead, Berkshire

Richard Kellaway, chair of the town's Conservative Association, said Mrs May was often seen around Maidenhead, and canvassed in the constituency "twice a month".

This was despite her holding cabinet roles and becoming prime minister, he said.

"The extraordinary thing is she has hardly been away. She's been away to Brussels and in the afternoon popped into a school," he said.

Mr Kellaway said Mrs May's "total commitment to the job" made her popular among constituents, as well as the "personal interest" she showed in local events such as sports days.


Analysis

By Patrick O'Hagan, political reporter, BBC Berkshire

History is likely to prove a harsh judge of Theresa May's time as prime minister.

Known for her dogged determination and single-minded approach, it was her lack of flexibility and inability to form alliances across her party that helped bring about her downfall.

Yet she remains a hugely popular MP in Maidenhead .

Even when everything at Westminster seemed to be draining her of every last ounce of energy, she continued to pop up unannounced at local fetes and running events with a smile on her face, a friendly and encouraging word never far away.

Then again, David Cameron and other former prime ministers also remained deeply loved by the majority of their constituents when their time was up.

Let's face it: We all like to bask in reflected glory at times.

But there's no way of getting away from it: Theresa May came to power on a vow to deliver a bold social agenda but, in the end, she failed to deliver the one thing that might have given her the breathing space she needed to deliver on that promise, Brexit.


When giving their views on Mrs May's time as prime minister, many in Maidenhead said they felt sorry for her.

'Needs a holiday'

Rick Moore said he thought Mrs May "ran out of energy" towards the end, after facing down a no-confidence vote and repeated rejections of her Brexit deal.

"I think she tried, I think too many people have ganged up on her," he said.

"But we need somebody with a bit of energy and Boris makes people feel euphoric, or at least some people."

Mrs Harding felt Mrs May had been "stabbed in the back".

"She has tried to do what the country wanted and people haven't let her do what she set out to do," she said.

"I feel sorry for her and she needs a very good holiday now."


Maidenhead: Constituency profile

Image caption Maidenhead is considered a safe seat for the Conservative Party and has never been held by any other party since it creation in 1997
  • Population: 106,307
  • Average weekly pay: £750
  • Average house price: £450,000
  • Number of registered businesses: 6,535
  • Number of people claiming out-of-work benefits: 820 (1.5% of population compared to national rate of 3.6%)
  • Maidenhead constituency page

Source: House of Commons Library Statistics


Mr Kellaway said Mrs May had been "pretty subdued" after submitting her resignation but had since "reconciled herself to what's going on and is a lot happier now".

She would have to "settle down and think what she wants to do", he said, but added she had "made it very plain that she not going to leave us in the lurch".

Simon Dudley, Windsor and Maidenhead council leader, said it was a "rare pleasure" to have a local MP as Prime Minister.

For her part, Mrs May told MPs at her final Prime Minister's Questions that Maidenhead would be her focus from now on.

"I shall then continue with my duties in this house from the backbenches," she said.


Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Theresa May at the General Election count shortly after being elected as MP for Maidenhead, 3rd May 1997.

Theresa May

  • Date of birth: 1 October 1956 (aged 62)
  • Jobs: MP for Maidenhead since 1997. Became prime minister in 2016 after serving as home secretary for six years.
  • Education: Mainly state-educated at Wheatley Park Comprehensive School with a brief time at an independent school; St Hugh's College, Oxford
  • Family: Married to Philip May
  • Hobbies: Cooking - she says she owns more than 150 recipe books. Mountain-walking holidays with her husband. On BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs in 2014, she chose Abba's Dancing Queen and Walk Like A Man, from the musical Jersey Boys, among her picks, alongside Mozart and Elgar. She chose a subscription to Vogue as her luxury item, reflecting her lifelong love of high fashion.

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