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After she had gone, I remember thinking how unlike other politicians she was: much less phoney, and much more sincere. She had made no effort whatever to be charming, and I liked her for that. I felt I had encountered a genuine individual, rather than the sort of hologram that most politicians project for public consumption or when they meet a journalist (I was a journalist at the time, writing the editorials and a column for the Sunday Telegraph).

When I started work as her speechwriter, I was employed as a civil servant, and not by the Conservative Party. I had a desk just outside the Home Secretary’s office. I thought it would be easy to walk into her office and talk over speeches with her. Wrong. I had reckoned without  her advisers Nick Timothy and Fiona Cunningham (as she then was: she has now taken her husband’s surname Hill). They must have had a role in hiring me, so I expected them to be friendly and helpful, but I found them hostile and difficult to deal with almost from the start. They guarded access to Mrs May, and they prevented almost everyone from getting to see her except on their terms. In my case, those terms did not include my having any contact which was not mediated by them.

Nevertheless, I occasionally got to see the Home Secretary on her own. In one meeting, for instance, we discussed a speech she was going to give to the Society of Editors. She told me what she wanted to say, and I made sure I put it in the speech. When it was finished, the speech went to Nick and Fiona, as all speeches did. Fiona approached me with a frown. “Have you been talking to the Home Secretary?” she asked. I had, I admitted: it was very useful to find out exactly what she wanted to say — I had put it in the speech. “I thought so,” responded Fiona. “But I don’t think she should say these things.” I said I thought that was surely up to her. “It’s up to me,” was the reply. I was too aghast to know what to say in response.

Much has already been written about the thoroughly disagreeable way in which the “gruesome twosome” operated. They were dominating, high-handed, and contemptuous of everyone who did not agree with them. They were uninterested in argument. They demanded obedience to their commands, and their power meant they usually got it. Fear and intimidation were their principal means of dealing with others. Their insistence that everyone who did not share their views was a contemptible fool meant they alienated practically everyone they encountered. But that didn’t seem to bother them in the least.

The puzzle is why Theresa May made them so central to her political operation. They are in many ways the complete opposite of her: she is thoughtful and polite; they are breathtakingly rude. They are certain they are right about everything; she is much more tentative and much more willing to listen to other views. They fashioned her public image and created her persona as a “difficult woman”, partly just by being difficult themselves: they were Theresa May’s representatives, the people with whom officials and ministers within government, and journalists reporting on it, had to deal. But the real Theresa May is not a difficult woman. She is conciliatory, pious, and with a strong, almost Victorian, sense of duty.

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