Theresa May can’t dance – so what?

PUBLISHED: 12:14 30 August 2018 | UPDATED: 12:28 30 August 2018

Theresa May dancing with students and staff at ID Mkize Secondary School in Cape Town
Photo: PA / Stefan Rousseau

Theresa May dancing with students and staff at ID Mkize Secondary School in Cape Town Photo: PA / Stefan Rousseau

PA Wire/PA Images

“Toe-curling” screamed her detractors. “Embarrassing,” ... “awful” ... “hilarious” chimed social media.

Tony Blair reacts as his wife, Cherie, singing When I'm 64 by The Beatles 
Photo: PA / Stefan RousseauTony Blair reacts as his wife, Cherie, singing When I'm 64 by The Beatles Photo: PA / Stefan Rousseau

But Theresa May jigging along with a band of joyous South African children should be celebrated.

OK, let’s be honest, the prime minister is no dancer. I expect, faced with the same situation, former US president Barack Obama would have dazzled with some expert break dancing (he would definitely have spun around on his head) but Mrs May instead went for a robotic, ska-like shuffle.

She looked silly – but who cares? She actually, for the first time in a very long while, appeared to be enjoying herself.

People laughed. “So what?” I say.

What if she had not even attempted to dance along? Would that have been worse? The headlines would no doubt have screamed: “Maybot says ‘no’.”

She was there for a very important meeting. The first of the promised trade deals we are told will ensure Britain not only survives but thrives post-Brexit. Whether that will be the case remains to be seen, of course.

But this was a visit to be cheered and therefore why not dance? What has been somewhat lost amid ‘dancegate’ is the great pictures of the prime minister meeting the children. She was cheerful. Mrs May is a naturally awkward person in public but at times she even seemed relaxed during this visit.

Mrs May had a large contingent of political journalists with her in South Africa. And as she began to make the first tentative hip swerves towards a full-blown frolic they had pens and cameras poised. Of course they did – that is their job.

And the prime minister’s team initially were worried that a light-hearted bop might distract from the real business at hand. “There was definitely concern,” said one Tory aide who had cruelly been left behind in London. “But in the end I think she came over quite well. It was funny. I think people will have asked themselves ‘what would I have done in that situation, could I have danced any better than Theresa did?’”

So no harm done for Mrs May. No-one voted Conservative at the last general election because of the leader’s twinkle toes – although mentioning it in the manifesto would have been an improvement on the disastrous document the party did publish.

Of course the danger with these unscripted interludes is they go horribly wrong – who remembers Cherie Blair warbling The Beatles’ When I’m 64? Or when Neil Kinnock – on the cusp of being crowned Labour leader and desperately trying to look important and serious – was caught out by the English Channel on Brighton Beach leaving him with a rather soggy backside?

Did these episodes damage the politicians – or their husband in Mrs Blair’s case – involved? Probably yes. So what makes Mrs May’s dancing different?

It is all about timing. Let’s take David Miliband – the man many still believe could save the centre of British politics ... don’t hold your breath – as a case study.

His political career was textbook. Primed from an early age for greatness within the Labour movement, Mr Miliband appeared ready to challenge Gordon Brown when Mr Blair stepped aside. He decided he wasn’t.

And when Blairite James Purnell quit in 2009 in opposition to Mr Brown’s leadership he had another chance. But perhaps by then it was too late.

Rewind to the autumn before and Labour conference. In the run up to the gathering lengthy profile pieces began appearing in weighty Sunday newspapers. Mr Miliband appeared to be readying himself for a tilt at the big job. He wanted to shake off the accusation he was a geeky, political spod. The readers were presented with a modern, switched-on man relaxing at home with his normal family – he will have been delighted.

Then he posed with a banana and all the good work was undone.

Of course it wasn’t the fruit that lost him the Labour leadership. That was the blind – misplaced in hindsight – ambition of his brother Ed. But there were certain people around the Labour movement who wondered if Mr Miliband was the right man after choosing to do a photo shoot alongside that rather phallic fruit.

That photo still haunts Mr Miliband. But Mrs May will not be remembered for her dancing – there are too many other issues upon which her legacy will be pinned.

Politicians are human. Some can’t dance, some can’t sing and others are proud owners of bananas – but at least there is never a dull moment.

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