Dramas need characters, politics requires politicians and a storm must have an eye. Which is why at the dead centre of Brexit ??? the biggest and most multifaceted crisis to face this country in more than 60 years ??? there is just one person. She stands at a Commons dispatch box in an elegant outfit day after day, knowing that the evening will cover her in yet another dung-heap of humiliation that will be daubed all over the next morning???s front pages. All along her frontbench are colleagues just waiting for her to go, so they can take her job and move into her Downing Street home. On her backbenches are MPs who shamelessly boast to journalists their fantasies about putting her in a ???noose??? and ???knifing her in the front???. She is derided, she is hated, she is the target for some of the most outrageous abuse ever to be heaped on a 62-year-old woman from Eastbourne.
In a democracy intent on beating itself up, Theresa May has become the nation???s punchbag. On radio phone-ins, the callers pour bile upon her. On TV sofas, pundits speculate about how many days she has left at No 10. When she isn???t attracting derision, she attracts something arguably worse for a politician: pity. Her voice has gone and, the theory goes, soon she will follow.
I understand much of this sentiment, but I want here to argue that it is misdirected. Of course, May is hopeless and cynical and robotic. In the tragedy of her own premiership, she has played a not insignificant role. Yet I cannot place too much of the blame on a woman who is ultimately cleaning up one useless man???s mess, even while a bunch of other useless men wait for her to finish simply so they can vie for her job. When these days are long gone and the judgments are all in, I am confident that David Cameron will be seen as the true architect of this mess. He insisted on holding the referendum, he brought the date forward, he told everyone he???d win ??? even while imposing spending cuts that ensured he wouldn???t. Yet for the Bullingdon prime minister, the deserts have proved to be a handsome advance for his memoirs and high-paying gigs on the after-dinner circuit. No such rewards await May.
But something more profound is going on here. The UK is in the middle of a crisis of governability. This is a country in mutinous mood. The factors driving that are complex: austerity, decades of the deliberate hollowing out of nations and regions, a form of capitalism that has lost much of its sense of responsibility and institutional counterweight. But the result is clear: whoever was governing now ??? however gifted in thought or word or deed ??? would find the task close to impossible. It just so happens that May is also especially bad at it.
But which Conservative do you honestly think would be so much better? It was once the biggest mass-membership party in Britain; it now numbers somewhere below 150,000 and of its members only one in 20 is below 25 years of age. The professionalisation of politicians that has been so much a feature of the past three decades is clearly visible across its frontbenches, laden as they are with people who have glided from careers in Westminster or investment banking or journalism straight into a true-blue seat and no danger of immersion in ordinary life.
Britain has created a political class set thoroughly apart from those it seeks to represent. This process has been going on for decades and it has affected Labour ranks as much as Tory. This is why the EU referendum came as such a shock to them; it is also why so many lack any real idea of where to go from here. May represents this failure, but she is one of many.
By all means, blame her for the stupid game-playing, the partisanship, the rote repetition of meaningless phrases. Or reach back into her past, and castigate her for the Go Home vans, the immigrant-bashing and the willingness to make spending cuts. All of this is true, but none of it is central to what has gone wrong. Those who cry out in newspaper columns or on social media for ???genuine leadership???, whatever that means, miss the point. This is not an age for leaders; it is the era in which their followers count for far more. Jeremy Corbyn is one reflection of that truth; a weekend gardener and former backbench MP who sits at the head of a mass movement ??? as he would say ??? that is far more interesting than him.
Britain has spent 40-plus years arrogating more and more power to its centre ??? and now its centre has no idea of how to wield that power. That I think is the fundamental political and economic crisis we face today. By all means, revile May. But don???t kid yourself that her successor will do any better.
??? Aditya Chakrabortty is a Guardian columnist