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But they had not been in operation long enough for their results to be assessed — and it was anyway not at all clear how those results, whatever they were, would be measured. The idea that officials would simply count the number of illegal migrants as they lined up to contact the Home Office and say they were leaving the UK after having seen one of the posters is obviously silly. But it was never explained how else the effectiveness (or lack of it) of the policy was going to be measured.

The flip-flops could be interpreted as sensible flexibility. Or they could be seen as indecisiveness and weakness, a failure to think through policy before implementing it.

I think it is Theresa May’s lack of intellectual self-confidence, together with her lack of an ideological framework, that explains why she delegated so much power to her advisers. Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill had two great attributes as far Mrs May was concerned: they seemed to have all the answers on the issues about which she felt uncertain; and they made it clear that they were utterly loyal to her — they would sacrifice themselves for her whenever that was necessary. Mrs May does not find it easy to trust people. She often feels that there are plots and conspiracies against her. And there often are, simply because in politics, intense rivalry and ambition means that there are plots against every politician of any significance. But her reluctance to place her trust in people means that when she finds people she thinks deserve her trust — such as Timothy  and Hill — she places excessive confidence in them and is too willing to allow them to substitute their judgment for her own on too many issues.

Timothy and Hill are now gone, but the temperamental characteristics that led to Mrs May appointing them and giving them so much power are still there. She will certainly need advisers who can shore up her intellectual confidence and help her build popular policy programme. It is not easy to do without some form of ideological framework. She has her strong Anglican faith, but it is not possible to construct a coherent political programme out of that.

Mrs May is in many ways an accidental Prime Minister. The office fell into her lap when David Cameron resigned after the vote in favour of Brexit, and all the other candidates for the Conservative leadership were either stabbed in the back or committed suicide. It almost fell out of her lap again after that dreadful campaign and the multiple misjudgments it involved. Her reputation as Prime Minister will now depend on whether her policy choices are seen as based on pragmatic willingness to compromise rather than on indecisiveness and a tendency to vacillation. In all her career, she has never been through a confidence-destroying moment as intense or as total as the result of the election on June 8. As a consequence, she has never been more in need of the old-fashioned English virtues of “character”: honesty, integrity, resilience and courage. The coming weeks will demonstrate whether or not she possesses them.

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