What Theresa May's 'difficult woman' line reveals

Laura Kuenssberg
Political editor
@bbclaurakon Twitter

Media caption,
May on being "bloody difficult" and "Brussels gossip"

After the row about the row, Theresa May slapped back the Brussels briefings with a challenge of her own, proudly reminding voters she had been described as a "bloody difficult woman" - a badge she clearly wears with pride.

In the South West, home to plenty of the many voters who chose Brexit and voted for UKIP last time round (3.8 million UKIP voters at the last election), a message that says unashamedly she is ready to do battle over the After Eights is hardly likely to be a problem.

Around the country too, there are 71 currently Labour constituencies where the number of UKIP voters in 2015 was bigger than the size of the Labour majority.

We have, of course, to be wise to what is going on. In the Brexit negotiations there will be dozens and dozens of episodes of spin wars. And our election will be full of it too.

But Theresa May's comment is revealing about her strength, and also her weakness. No political leader wants to be seen to be pushed around. When the UK talked tough as a member of the EU the others had no choice but to listen.

But now the UK is on the way out, the incentives for the others to pay attention - let alone do our bidding - is very different.

Refusing to be pushed around is one thing, refusing to show any sign of compromise or listen quite another.

PS Remember of course that there is a strong argument we've discussed here, that pushing for a bigger majority will ultimately allow Theresa May to compromise over Brexit much more than she has so far signalled. But it's perfectly possible, if deeply ironic, that her language to get her to the majority she hopes for becomes tougher towards the EU.

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