I like to believe that I am a person who has a lot of empathy. My heart sinks when I see old people eating alone, I pull faces at crying babies on public transport, evenings watching First Dates often result in huge chocolate consumption to try and stifle my sobs at the tales of previous heartbreak.
Sympathy is a powerful emotion. It’s hard to look at the news these days and not feel your entire being fill with rage at the various injustices we still face. Primary schools are closing the gaps that welfare should be, acting as food banks for their pupils. Homelessness rates have soared, with regular stories of those who have died on the streets overnight. People who have travelled across oceans in perilous conditions end up on our shores to a less than warm welcome.
As I said, my capacity for sympathy and empathy is quite large. An absolute unit, if you will. Where I falter is the idea that this trust fund of sympathy I’ve accumulated over the years should be extended to one Theresa May.
On last week’s BBC Question Time, one audience member preceded her question with a call that we all stop feeling so bad for the PM. When questioned by new host Fiona Bruce, she said: "No I don’t feel sorry for her. She is the person who for many, many years has led the hostile environment for migrants in our country, which resulted in the Windrush Generation. It’s a disgrace." She’s absolutely right.
I hate to inform you all but Theresa May is a grown woman. Theresa May is a grown woman who ran the Home Office with its "hostile environment" and "let’s send out vans telling people we don’t like the look of to 'Go Home'" for six years. Theresa May is a grown woman who ran the Home Office for six years who then took the decision, as the grown woman that she is, to run for prime minister. Theresa May is a grown woman who ran the Home Office for six years who then won the race to become prime minister. She now has the most powerful job in the country. She is paid significant money to do her job. She’s not a bewildered intern, a rabbit caught in the headlights, holding down the fort until a real grown-up turns up. She is the beneficiary of significant privilege just by being PM. When she does eventually jump ship, she’s assured a hefty pension and will likely be protected for life.
I can’t help but feel that calls to sympathise with Theresa May are patronising. Not to pull the feminism card (reverse feminism card?) but did we wring our hands in the same way for male prime ministers of our past when they came into bother? When David Cameron was forced to resign his post as PM after leading us into the disaster that is, well, everything that’s happening right now, did we sit and go "Oh, you do have to feel for him"? Or did we all agree he was a cowardly twat and move on?
Something I’ve learned as I’ve grown older is that often, sympathy and empathy are a two-way street. I used to spend a lot of time worrying about people who didn’t worry about me, stressing for people who didn’t stress for me; that way lies trouble and emotional exhaustion. When I think of Theresa May I do not think of a woman who cares. I do not think of a woman who lies awake at night agonising over decisions she’s made previously.
On 15th June 2018, the day after the Grenfell fire, in which families lost their lives, homes and worldly possessions, Theresa May couldn’t bring herself to visit them due to security concerns.
When I worked for Sky News, I covered one of the Met briefings after the fire and was brought to tears as the police confessed the possibility that not everyone who lost their life in the tower would be accounted for. The idea that the prime minister wouldn’t have bent over backwards to spend time with this grieving community is shameful to me.
And let's not forget, Theresa May's former department cooked up a scheme to send vans around London telling people to 'go home or face arrest' (which they later admitted wasn't the best idea). Theresa May created an environment that led to people who worked hard for this country being deported – a letter from the Home Office in 2016 showed that ministers knew what the results of their "hostile environment" policy would be.
Ignoring empathy and sympathy, the kind of feelings I have towards Theresa May are on a sliding scale between intense disdain and that attitude your mum has when you have your first hangover. She’ll bustle into your bedroom, stomping loudly, flinging the curtains open, throwing bright light into your dehydrated face. She’ll slam a pint of water on your bedside table, exclaiming "you did this to yourself!" before leaving and slamming the door behind her. It’s a tacit recognition that you’ve done wrong – it’s not an all-out bollocking – but it’s nowhere near the sympathy you think you deserve.