THE LAST DAYS OF MRS MAY.?
For the Telegraph by EDWINA CURRIE
So Boris is off - no surprise there. No more bloopers as Foreign Secretary:
he can indulge his talent for punchy turns of phrase instead of diplomatic language, and he'll be happier.
As for David Davis: as Brexit Secretary, let's admit it, he was a bit of an embarrassment.
Alongside the immaculate Michel Barnier, Davis appeared scruffy and laid back, as if he wasn't
really taking this seriously. His pre-Brexit tweets, now gleefully re-aired on Twitter, called for
deals with Germany, France and Poland, suggesting he never grasped what Brussels was about.
But does it herald the Last Days of Mrs May? Maybe, but I doubt it.
She repeatedly shows qualities of resilience and resistance to suffering that
make her hard to dislodge. She also has a shrewder perception than some of the
EU's political stance, and might still pull off a decent Brexit the public will
be happy with. In the Commons, vote after vote is carried, despite her having no majority.
Her latest proposals for a common rule book for goods are "necessary to move the
negotiations forward" - her words, not mine (Telegraph 9 July). If these ideas are
rejected, she'll keep plodding on and come up with more.
I cast my mind back to 1989 and 1990, the time before Margaret Thatcher was eased out.
Like Mrs May she kept losing Ministers, but that was because she yelled at them in Cabinet
and humiliated them in public, not vice versa. I noted in my diary that "At 64 she's fizzing,
in a controlled, deliberate, disciplined way. Still throwing off wild remarks, chucking around
her prejudices, waiting for people to argue with her." Both Nigel Lawson as Chancellor and
Geoffrey Howe as Foreign Secretary put up with it as long as they could bear it. When Nigel
quit in November 1989 Labour were 14% ahead in the polls, so the alternative wasn't one of them,
it was Neil Kinnock, who would have destroyed all the gains of "Thatcherism"
(which Howe grumbled was as much down to his credit as much as hers).
She went, in the end, because of three factors: a recession which was crippling
the many new businesses, and which she refused to take action over; the poll tax,
entirely her responsibility; and her stance on Europe. Then as now most Tory MPs
were elected on a pro-EU stance. So to hear The Boss railing "No! No! No!!!" over
Europe prompted agonised debate. A general election was looming; she was far less
popular than her party. We began to realise that if we wanted to keep Thatcherism, we had to get rid of Thatcher.
Theresa May's position is different. The public realise that she will go on till the Brexit job's done;
her approval ratings have risen steadily this year, and she remains well ahead of Corbyn
as the nation's preferred leader. Her stance on Russia over the Salisbury poisonings was
widely admired. She seems to have relentless energy, is polite and controlled at all times,
and personifies old-fashioned virtues like Duty. These are more useful talents right now
than flashy histrionics. And, I'd guess, the Tory Party at large have no stomach for
another leadership contest and will punish anyone who fancies their chances.
If anything is keeping Boris in check, it's that stark reality.