Theresa's tears tapped into latest trend for politicians to ride the emotional rollercoaster

PUBLISHED: 10:13 09 June 2019 | UPDATED: 10:13 09 June 2019

Reader Peter King says being the prime minister of the UK can be an emotional job

Theresa May has officially stood down as the Conservative leader but will remain as prime minister until a successor is chosen.

She'll be remembered for her tearful departure outside Downing Street, which thrust the issue of emoting into the public gaze.

For some, the newspaper front page images of a prime minister weeping were reassuring proof that a leader branded as robotic was really flesh and blood.

Others - in the dwindling band of the stiff upper lip brigade - disliked the loss of control and recalled doughtier days when being British meant being resolute and unemotional in the face of adversity. A trembling of the upper lip looked like weakness and textbook heroes approached their departure from the world, not simply from their office, with equanimity and fortitude.

The growing clamour for public figures to wear their hearts on their sleeves was exemplified by the comparison that the political editor of BBC News, Laura Kuenssberg, made between the departure of Mrs May and her predecessor, David Cameron.

Ms Kuenssberg wrote: "Contrast her agony at the end of her lectern statement with David Cameron's shockingly casual whistle as he went back into Number 10."

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It is true that a melody was playing in Cameron's head as he turned back to that famous door, even if the tune emerged as a hum rather than a whistle, but the assumption that caring means parading your 'agony' is questionable.

The fashion now seems to be for even the toughest politicians to reveal their tender side. The Iron Lady, on leaving Downing Street, became the first British prime minister to sob on screen. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell, widely regarded as the hard man of the left, recently confessed to The Times Magazine, "I cry all the time."

Politicians who shun the crying game seem out of tune with the great British public, which expects contestants in talent shows to go on incredible, life-changing journeys with emotions running high and tears primed to flow.

Some, however, still courageously cling to the view that big girls don't cry. William Hague, another Conservative leader charged with failing to emote, was assailed for his low-key reaction to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, which was compared unfavourably with the histrionic response of Tony Blair.

A.N. Wilson wrote: "Blair's response - gushing about the People's Princess, standing at the airport to receive her coffin as if he were the Head of State - had supposedly been 'just right'. Hague was 'out of touch'."

In the secret courts of men's hearts, however, as Wilson went on to say, many people privately sided with Hague. The Victorian public school virtue of the stiff upper lip and a high regard for the Spartans who inspired it was still lurking somewhere in the British psyche, even if the feeling could not speak its name.

There were still some who admired the selfless approach of Captain Oates on the ill-fated Antarctic expedition, with his understated parting shot, "I am just going outside and may be some time." And there remained a high regard for the idea of meeting death bravely - even in the case of a traitor - that chimed with Malcolm's words about the way Cawdor faced his execution in Shakespeare's 'Macbeth': "Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it."

The current fashion for flaunting emotion, whether heartfelt of phoney, means that public figures increasingly have to toe the tearful line to meet the exacting standards of the Emotion Police - but there is still an unreformed part of us that secretly sniggers with the studio audience when a satirist dares to mock a real or apparent slipping of the public mask.

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