HAROLD Wilson famously said a week is a long time in politics. Three years, by that measure, would be a lifetime. In many ways that’s how it feels with Theresa May’s premiership, a disastrous 36-month stint which has dramatically aged both her and the rest of us. Let’s face it, a Strictly-style “let’s take a look at your best bits, Theresa” would take less than a nanosecond.

And yet the tone and content of her farewell speech at Chatham House last week suggests Mrs May feels hard done by and misunderstood. She clearly hopes, even expects, that history will judge her more kindly than the wretched politicians and commentators who defied her, not to mention those nasty voters that refused to give her a majority. Talk about self-delusion.

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You couldn’t help but laugh as she tried to list achievements. Mention of leaving behind a “modern industrial strategy” when a no-deal Brexit looks set to destroy what remains of the UK’s manufacturing sector, while undermining the service, research and development, and farming industries, was breathtaking. It was her own failings, after all, the pandering to extremists in her party, that created the vacuum in which Boris Johnson and his mendacious No Deal narrative has thrived.

Perhaps even more bizarre and maddening was the finger-wagging lecture she insisted upon giving us about the dangers of divisive rhetoric and populism. Was she being serious as she warned of an ethos that “tells people what you think they want to hear”, without mentioning Boris Johnson by name? Neither did she have the guts to namecheck Donald Trump when she talked of the aggressive “absolutism”, the “power unconstrained by rules” that harms public discourse, causes division and threatens liberal democracy.

Not only was this guff watered-down and unoriginal, it was utterly hypocritical coming from the woman who called EU migrants “queue jumpers”, said opposing Brexit and believing yourself to be a citizen of the world made you a “citizen of nowhere”, and was the Home Secretary who presided over the “Go Home” vans as part of a crack down on illegal immigration. Lest we forget that although Amber Rudd took the rap for the Windrush scandal that saw elderly black Britons being illegally deported from their own country, causing untold misery, it was Mrs May who instigated the hostile environment that led to it happening.

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How different this all seems from that bold first speech outside 10 Downing street in July 2016. Was it really only three years ago that the vicar’s daughter stood at the lectern and promised to fight against the “burning injustice” that pervades society and prevents women, ethnic minorities and people from working class backgrounds from reaching their potential?

Like most folk I was cynical, but deep down I genuinely wanted to believe Mrs May when she talked of overhauling the criminal justice and education systems, giving people better access to mental health services and building affordable homes, cracking down on corporatism and putting workers on boards, ending tax breaks for the rich and “giving you more control over your lives”.

She also, of course, waxed lyrical that day about the “precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland”, talking of a union not just between nations but citizens. Was it really possible that Mrs May would be a Merkel figure for the UK, a One Nation Tory who would recognise and ease the pain of endless austerity? Of course not.

Not one of the promises above came to pass. Indeed, under PM May health, social care, education and criminal justice in England and Wales all decayed further, starved of resources and attention. The rich and powerful thrived and become more emboldened, the poor and vulnerable fell further and faster. Progress on equality stalled. Instead of fighting burning injustices she perpetuated old ones and created new ones. The UK became a more spiteful, aggressive and divided place on her watch, thanks largely to the increasingly extreme language emanating from her Conservative colleagues.

Brexit exposed Mrs May’s deficiencies most starkly, of course. The catastrophic mistakes came thick and fast: signing a pact with the DUP rather than seeking consensus and support elsewhere; failing to consult with the devolved administrations or pin down what Brexit actually meant before triggering Article 50; laying down and robotically sticking to ridiculous red lines that held her back in negotiations; bringing back a deal that nobody on either side of the Brexit divide could live with, then not having the sense or sensibility to act to prevent the country lurching towards an even more catastrophic situation.

Any reassessment of Mrs May must go beyond her catastrophic self-delusion towards what for many is an even more horrifying realisation. Watching the poor leadership and terrible decision-making week-in, week-out, felt long and drawn out at the time. But already one can see her premiership for what it truly was: the whistle-stop transition to and enabler of a right-wing populist takeover. I hope she can sleep at night.