- Lawrence Bailey
The main problem facing the government … is the government
“Shambolic, erratic and totally without a clue”. Normally you’d expect such comments to come from a Swans fan but on this occasion, it was a Conservative backbencher talking about the government.
You can understand his frustration. Collective responsibility is a big thing in Westminster yet it’s currently hard to discern that particular trait among a deeply factionalised cabinet seemingly riven by self-interest.
This tendency to wilfully bump into the Downing Street furniture is fairly endemic, according to veteran watchers who insist the total of resignations prompted by ministerial misdeeds should be nearer double figures.
One example cited is the manner by which chief whip Gavin Williamson contrived in ‘House of Cards’ fashion to depose the defence secretary, only to snatch the post for himself.
No-one pushed Priti Patel into the hole she dug during some freelance foreign policy. Over-promoted and dismissive of her departmental role, she floundered on delusions of hierarchy. Photos of her wreathed in smiles during her final ministerial limo ride confirmed her woeful grasp on matters.
It’s this same unattractive lack of contrition that is the stamp of senior figures like Boris and Gove – although it’s noticeable how some sections of the partisan press maintain being pro-Brexit is mitigation for arrogance and idiocy.
You can argue that a weakened Prime Minister has limited scope in her team choices due to divisions and an overall paucity of talent. Patel is one a generation of recently minted MPs cast in the Cameron-Clegg mould who migrate seamlessly from public relations into politics as if it’s the same thing.
However, the inexplicable act of providing seating space for incompetents and semi-insurgents around her cabinet table is among the least of Theresa May’s sins in the eyes of her critics.
A self-inflicted inability to promote policy without the risk of a humiliating u-turn or else bunging the odd billion in the direction of sectarian Northern Ireland interests in order to win a Commons vote has diminished May’s premiership and her party’s power base.
The sound bites hyping ‘strong and stable’ government versus a ‘coalition of chaos’ carry a hollow mockery with each repetition.
For now, it seems the job of a cabinet member is to mumble loyal epithets while engaged in masterful inactivity and doing their damnedest to be a far away as possible from any buck that looks like stopping. Good luck with that one.
A leadership change is not unthinkable
Despite reports of up to 40 backbenchers getting ready to dump Theresa May (eight short of the requisite trigger number) the view among the political commentariat is that she’s unlikely to be challenged until Brexit happens - in whatever guise.
Put simply, anyone who wants the job of putting together an undeliverable and unacceptable package would be expendable after March 2019.
You get the impression that this has recently dawned on the PM herself and how, sooner or later, someone is going to have to come clean that a painless and profitable departure is a fallacy.
The EU referendum was a Conservative contrivance aimed at bolstering party advantage and which spectacularly backfired. That was Cameron’s mistake but it was May who made matters worse.
Things being as unpredictable as they are in politics nowadays, it would be wrong to regard a leadership change during a crisis as unthinkable.
People tend to forget that Churchill was not directly elected as a wartime PM. That said, and whatever his accomplishments in office, post-conflict voters then dumped him at the earliest opportunity.