Narrative, Persona and Performance: The Case of Theresa May 2016-2017

Judi Atkins, John Gaffney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A narrative and performance analysis of the period between the 2016 EU referendum and the 2017 general election makes an empirical and theoretical contribution to understanding personalised politics at the present time. This article contends that Theresa May’s initial success proceeded from her rhetorical construction and performance of a persona founded on the archetypal healer, together with a narrative based on the myth of One Nation. However, her decision as Prime Minister to align herself with the pro-Brexit constituency and her neglect of the ‘just about managing’ called both her persona and narrative into question. The highly personalised general election campaign ensured the focus stayed on May, while the manifesto offered her a new ‘flawed’ narrative that resulted in the collapse of her early leadership image. By the time of the election, May was performing neither the narrative nor the persona; she was effectively absent from her own campaign.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)293-308
Number of pages16
JournalBritish Journal of Politics and International Relations
Issue number2
Early online date9 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020

Bibliographical note

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License ( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page (


  • Brexit
  • Conservative Party
  • One Nation
  • Theresa May
  • general election 2017
  • leadership performance
  • myth
  • narrative
  • persona
  • rhetoric


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