Why Theresa May Needs To Go Now

Theresa May - Tory Leadership -resignation

Every day that Theresa May remains in office is another day that the Conservative Party is idling in neutral, failing to retool and re-energise itself to take on Jeremy Corbyn’s marauding socialists

Tim Montgomerie, writing in the Evening Standard, explains quite comprehensively why there is only downside and no upside to keeping Theresa May in 10 Downing Street a moment longer than it will take the Conservatives to organise a leadership contest to replace her.

Montgomerie writes:

Tory MPs, returning in a shell-shocked daze to Westminster for this week’s low-fat, low-content Queen’s Speech, must quickly recognise that Theresa May is as finished as Mrs Clinton. Every day she remains in charge is a wasted day. Every day the country inches closer to an election for which Jeremy Corbyn will have added more activists to his impressive turnout machine. Equally, the Conservatives will have one less day to rebuild their own offering and operation.

Mrs May’s flat-footed response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy was not just further proof she’s not that good at politics. It was another moment of not rising to the occasion as a leader with vision would do. The horrific burning alive of largely poor and marginalised people was — like 2008’s crash — another reminder of unjustifiable vulnerabilities at the bottom of society and inadequate responsibility from those at the top.

Yes. This blog has noted the number of commentators who leapt to the prime minister’s defence in terms of her out-of-step public response to the horrific Grenfell Tower fire last week. A significant minority seem to have convinced themselves that the prime minister’s excessive reserve terror at the thought of interaction with the public is somehow an admirable thing, the epitome of British stoicism, rather than further dismal evidence of Theresa May’s inability to lead.

These claims dismiss critics of Theresa May as reactionaries who just want to see the prime minister emote for the cameras and hug a few of the survivors, but this dismissive attitude completely misses the point. I don’t think anybody in Britain had any great desire to see the prime minister weeping with the Grenfell Tower victims on the evening news bulletins. They did, however, expect her to show up, even if it was politically awkward, just as American political leaders show solidarity with disaster victims in the United States and French political leaders in the aftermath of terror atrocities in France. This is not an unreasonable, irrational demand. It is Leadership 101, and Theresa May has been failing the test in manifold ways since well before the general election.

Montgomerie continues:

The most fitting memorial to those who perished [in the Grenfell Tower fire] is not to comfort the bereaved as all half-decent societies would. The best way of honouring the dead would be to deliver the scale of house-building that Conservative PMs such as Churchill and Macmillan championed but which an ideologically rigid Thatcherite dogma has since discouraged. For good measure, a government building more homes in the South would also significantly expand infrastructure in the North. The everyday so-called current government spending still needs trimming but leaving the next generation with inadequate roads, railways and broadband is just as irresponsible as leaving them up to their necks in debt.

I’d put believing that Elvis Presley is still alive on equal par with the claim that Mrs May could launch this agenda or something similar. Despite the words she uttered in Downing Street after first becoming PM she has done nothing of consequence for communities suffering most from the multigeddon of globalisation, open borders, automation and the collapse of the working-class family.

Rather than overhauling a threadbare party machine that helped lose a 20 per cent opinion poll lead, she has reappointed her Tory chairman. Those thinking the days of treating her Cabinet with disdain are over should look at her careless loss of two of the Brexit department’s four key ministers last weekend, a week before today’s starting gun for talks.

Also true. While this blog has focused on the need for conservatives to start transmitting a positive, optimistic message and defence of their worldview if they want to stand a chance of competing with the parties of the Left for the youth vote, good messaging alone is not enough. And while acts of pandering and voter bribery – such as matching Labour’s pledge for free university tuition – are rightfully unacceptable to conservatives, it should not be impossible for the Tories to recognise that their current housing policy (or lack thereof) is a punch in the gut to any young person not fortunate enough to inherit from their parents or be helped onto the housing ladder by them. Planning laws need to be urgently reviewed and liberalised. The Left wants to build council houses for all, so that everybody is dependent on the state for one more thing. Conservatives should counter with a bold proposal to expand the supply of private housing for rent and purchase.

Montgomerie is also right to criticise the party machine. CCHQ has presided over the near-total gutting of the party in recent years, from the winding up of the terminally dysfunctional Conservative Future youth movement to the neutering of the constituency associations and the megalomaniacal insistence of central control over candidate selection so as to ensure the continuance of the current system of patronage and nepotism which gave us such wonderful “rising stars” as Ben Gummer. Theresa May is not responsible for the party machine that she inherited when she became prime minister last year, but neither has she shown the slightest interest in revamping the party and opening it up to outside talent. The necessary change will not come so long as she remains leader.

Montgomerie’s conclusion is also strong:

A new PM and a contest necessary to establish who it should be will not be good for the nation’s immediate peace of mind or for business sentiment, but there are no easy options from where we are. What Britain does have is a two- to three-month window before September’s German elections. After that, Brexit negotiations will be fast and furious.

The Tories need a contest thorough enough to identify a team as much as a leader, and an agenda for social renewal as much as for Brexit. With both established, there is a real chance of stopping the momentum building behind Jeremy Corbyn — and it must be stopped. His views on tax, state power and defence would enfeeble this country.

We must not underestimate Corbyn. Voters who yearn for change may well roll the dice if forced to choose between Corbyn and “the same old Tories”. If, after all, people can convince themselves that the moon landings were staged, they may even believe Corbyn is equipped for Britain’s highest office.

There is never a good time to instigate a divisive, ugly leadership election campaign between general elections, but far better that Conservatives bite the bullet now than wait until a year into Brexit negotiations before swapping out the leader of the country. It’s bad enough to have to consider changing horses at the water’s edge of Brexit negotiations; changing horses mid-stream would only undermine the British negotiating position further.

And as Tim Montgomerie rightly says, a leadership contest is needed to identify not just a leader but also a team and a set of values – not just relating to Brexit – around which the party can coalesce and campaign. The 2017 general election campaign was a miserable affair in which Tories – led from the top by Theresa May – refused to make a bold, positive affirmation of free markets or other traditional conservative standards, instead portraying “austerity” and limits on the state as a necessary evil rather than as a potentially good thing in and of themselves.

The Tories were tricked into fighting on Labour’s turf (arguing about inequality) when they should instead have proudly made the case that conservative policies expand the pie for all while Jeremy Corbyn’s focus on equality of outcome promises only more equal slices of a rapidly diminishing national pie. Conservatives essentially went to fight in this general election only to discover that their leader had broken their best ideological weapon in advance of the battle. No wonder they lost ground against Jeremy Corbyn’s uplifting (if loopy and fiscally nonsensical) vision for Britain.

And then there is the elusive, undefinable sense of momentum. Whatever momentum Theresa May had when she took over from David Cameron, she has now squandered it all. Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, is on the march. Through her inept leadership and hopelessly prosecuted general election campaign, Theresa May literally gave 1970s style socialism a foothold back in our national politics, and raised the real risk that Corbyn could enter 10 Downing Street as prime minister if her shaky minority government were to fall. Prior to the election her aura of strength and stability was severely knocked by the multiple terror attacks on British soil, some of which exposed failings for which she was directly accountable as Home Secretary.

And now the Grenfell Tower disaster response has revealed the prime minister to be a shrunken, fearful and traumatised figure, clinging on day by day while colleagues openly worry about her mental state of mind. Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan between them have assumed the role of national Consoler-in-Chief, while Theresa May skulks in Downing Street and only meets with the survivors and bereaved relatives under duress. This might be partly excusable if she had organised a first-class disaster response plan a la Gordon Brown, but she didn’t. Instead there were days of chaos and confusion before Whitehall finally took over the response from Kensington & Chelsea council.

Rightly or wrongly – and the vast majority of criticism directed at Theresa may has been fully justified – the impression is of a prime minister in over her head, unable to regain her political footing and behaving in an entirely reactive way rather than giving the country the proactive leadership that it needs. There is no coming back from such a self-inflicted calamity. There is no PR job that can be done to repair the damage. And if Theresa May is hanging on in some desperate bid to burnish her legacy with a smattering of minor accomplishments before her inevitable removal then she is not only deluding herself but also putting herself before the Conservative Party, and party before the country.

So let’s bring on the contest. Let 48 Tory MPs submit their letters to the 1922 Committee and formally trigger a leadership challenge, forcing the prime minister’s resignation. There is no reason for us to continue to “bear those ills we have / Than fly to others that we know not of”. The undiscover’d country could hardly be any worse.

 

Theresa May - Downing Street

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Labour’s Best Frenemy

edballsedmiliband
Maybe a 65% top marginal rate of income tax would make us even more popular.

 

Dan Hodges may have resigned his Labour Party membership last year in protest of the parliamentary party’s opportunistic stance on intervention in Syria, but he still strongly identifies with Labour values – indeed, his Telegraph biography states that he “writes about Labour with tribal loyalty and without reservation”. One would expect no less from the son of my firebreathing local MP, Glenda Jackson. Which makes his scorn for the current Labour leadership and pessimism for their prospects in the 2015 general election all the more compelling.

Of course, one might say that it is perfectly natural for someone who has publicly fallen out with the party hierarchy to publicly root for their demise, and that it is unseemly to trumpet the latest poll results showing Labour’s lead over the Conservative Party almost completely extinguished. But Dan Hodges comes packing precedents, facts and statistics.

First come the simple, time-tested truths:

The party that is seen as being best placed to run the economic affairs of the nation normally wins the election. And at the moment that party is seen to be the Conservative Party. In fact, that party has been seen to be the Conservative Party ever since Labour was ejected from office in 2010. Through rain, through shine, through double-dip (erroneously reported double-dip if you prefer), and through recovery, the Tories have enjoyed a comfortable lead on the economy. The perception that David Cameron and George Osborne are the guys to run the nation’s finances is baked in.

Another issue is leadership. The man who people see as the best suited to be prime minister is usually the one they select as their prime minister. In this case that man is Cameron. From the day Miliband was elected Labour party leader, people have looked at him, and then they’ve looked at Cameron, and they’ve said “David Cameron is the one best suited to running the country”. There has never been a single day when they’ve said “Actually, I think that Ed Miliband is best suited to running the country”. Again, the Tory advantage on leadership is baked in.

Strikes one and two. On economic stewardship, for better or worse, the question is quite settled. George Osborne, for all the many things he has done wrong and key conservative principles on which he has compromised (partly through necessity of coalition and partly through want of a backbone), has still managed to deliver the strongest rate of economic growth since 2007. Meanwhile, Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls’ continued shrieking about economic flatlining and living standards (always a lagging indicator) are increasingly coming to sound churlish and divorced from reality.

Hodges also considers the trove of other indicators that are trending in favour of the government at present:

If you think abut it, it’s fairly logical. “So, Bill, I see the economy is growing faster than any of our EU rivals, unemployment is falling, crime is falling, that wave of east European migration didn’t materialise after all, business optimism has returned, wages are rising again, inflation is still low, interest rates are still low, and this lot seem the ones best placed to help the family finances. What are you going to do in the election on Thursday?” “You have to ask? I’m going to kick the bums out.”

The crux of the matter, according to Hodges, is that in order for Labour to win, the British electorate would have to simultaneously break almost all of their recent behavioural precedents and behave in a most unpredictable way, namely:

An opposition party could retain its midterm vote share. A party in power could be ejected after just one term. Even though the economy is improving and unemployment is falling and crime is falling and business optimism is increasing and interest rates are historically low and inflation is historically low and wages are rising in real terms, people could say “It’s time for a change.”

Well, when you put it like that…

It did not have to be this way. As any reader of this blog will know, I am no supporter of the Labour Party, and given the fact that the Conservative-led coalition government is at least making timid steps to roll back the size of the state and tackle government spending, I have no great desire to see things change in this regard. But I also saw a path that Labour could have taken to put themselves in a better position going into the 2015 general election, a path that they conspicuously chose not to take.

This route to potential victory involved making an initial very public mea culpa accepting responsibility for their previous economic mismanagement and unsustainable growth of government (and so drawing a line under it) and a pledge to take deficit reduction at least as seriously as the Tories, followed by a pivot to actually address some of the British public’s legitimate concerns on welfare, on Europe and on government spending. From his recent columns, it is evident that Dan Hodges also saw this potential door back into power, just as it was firmly being pushed shut by Ed Miliband and Ed Balls.

The Labour Party leadership and allied local party activists who have drunk merrily from the Ed Miliband Kool-Aid since 2010 probably do not like to hear any of this, from someone they no doubt consider a turncoat. But I have a strong premonition that, should the 2015 general election not go Labour’s way, it is the words of Dan Hodges that people will summarise and plagiarise when writing their post-mortems of the Ed Miliband era.

Maybe Dan Hodges isn’t Labour’s worst enemy in their own midst; in fact, he is quite possibly their very best friend at the moment. If only they could see that.

Jim Murphy: Labour’s Saving Grace?

 

After a day enduring the speeches at the 2013 Labour Party Conference in Brighton, I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that Jim Murphy MP, the shadow Defence Secretary, is the sole saving grace in Ed Miliband’s weak shadow cabinet.

Aside from the much-heralded rollout of a redundant proposal to specifically criminalise attacking a member of the armed forces, his speech – delivered without notes or teleprompter – was the best thing of the day:

 

Murphy rightly calls out the current government for their mistakes in defence policy, and though Labour’s record in this area is hardly stellar, he manages to land some punches that will hurt the Tories and which should give them serious pause for reflection as to their own conservative priorities and supposed natural affinity with the armed forces.

In so doing, he also managed to tick off an impressive list of Labour policies and pledges, as yet unmatched by the Tories, which would naturally appeal to service members and their families.

Legal aid and entitlements for veterans.

In-service education for serving troops.

Codifying the armed forces bill of rights in the Labour Party rule book.

Denouncing the decision to make tens of thousands of experienced veterans redundant while expecting their roles to be backfilled by reservists in the TA.

Mocking the lamentable fact that Britain’s new aircraft carriers will enter service years before the jets capable of flying from them.

Rightly calling out the government for failing to address the disastrously bloated and inefficient defence procurement system.

In their zealousness (but not effectiveness) to reduce Britain’s budget deficit and roll back the size of the state, the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government has undeniably weakened Britain’s armed forces and military readiness, and Jim Murphy did well to draw blood on all of these points.

It is still a bit rich for Labour to try to seize the mantle of being the party of the armed forces, but Jim Murphy is a talented and competent politician with an obvious affection for and affinity with the military. He may not have owned up to Labour’s own past failings in the defence sphere – no one in the shadow cabinet has managed to do that – but he is no dove, and he clearly has his eye on the future.

Based on his recent performance, Jim Murphy would be a solid pick for the Labour party leadership after Ed Miliband has finished leading them into electoral oblivion.

The Conservative party should watch and beware.

On Political Silly Season

At least it isn't every year.
At least it isn’t every year.

 

It is party conference season in the UK, with the Labour Party currently enjoying their moment in the spotlight. It is times like these that I envy the Americans, who only have to endure the spectacle of their preferred political party’s most gung-ho, swivel-eyed or greasily ambitious apparatchiks getting together to engage in collective groupthink once every four years, unlike us Brits who are treated to these traveling roadshows each year.

And as usual, we have had our fair share of silliness.

The Liberal Democrat party conference was largely dominated by the news that Sarah Teather, the current government children’s minister (because apparently that is a separate role that we need?) is throwing her toys out of the pram and standing down as an MP at the 2015 general election because the LibDems are not sufficiently like the Labour party for her liking. In a similar vein, much of the remaining press coverage was driven by continual speculation about Nick Clegg’s leadership, and Tim Farron’s (the Liberal Democrat’s party president) evident desire to serve in coalition with Labour rather than the Conservatives, and quite possibly to shack up with Ed Miliband and take romantic mini-breaks together as well.

UKIP were hoping for a successful conference to build favourable press in the long run-up to the European Parliamentary elections, where they are expected to do very well and challenge for first place. However, they came a cropper when one of their MEPs hit a journalist and made an inappropriate “slut” joke, all in view of television cameras and witnesses. This is a typical example of the pointless distraction – the actions of a silly activist then overshadow anything substantive that may have been discussed or decided at conference. UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, did his frank and inimitable best to salvage some small gain from the smoking wreck and lift the morale of his troops, but the damage was already done.

This man can make positive press conference disappear faster than I can finish this capt---
This man can make positive press coverage disappear faster than I can finish this capt—

 

Now we are enduring the Labour party conference, another exercise in denial as to the reasons for their 2010 general election loss and their persistent unpopularity throughout the country. Of course, no Labour conference is complete without the proposal for several new and entirely redundant laws. This time, in the wake of the horrific terrorist murder of British soldier Drummer Lee Rigby, Labour are proposing making it a specific crime to attack a member of the armed forces. Because, of course, at the moment anyone could do that and walk away entirely untouched by the criminal justice system. So we have the typical frenetic, pointless legislating that we have come to know and love from the Labour party.

Something to look forward to.
Something to look forward to.

 

As of press time we can only speculate as to the joys that await us at the Conservative party conference, but as a conservative voter I am filled with my usual apprehension that we will see more moves to make the Tories indistinguishable from Labour, and the unceasing need to try to “outnice” their main electoral rivals by embracing universal benefits for rich and poor alike whilst continuing to clobber the rich with onerous tax rates. If Osborne and Cameron manage to articulate even one original policy that stands a snowball’s chance in hell of shrinking the state and increasing personal freedom, I will not only be delighted but I will eat my hat.

So, in conference season 2013 we have a party in denial about why they were booted out of government and remain widely distrusted, a party in the midst of severe post-wedding remorse pining for the other woman that it didn’t marry, a party whose manifesto and policy announcements were entirely upstaged by an ornery old man unfamiliar with the workings of television and a party calling themselves the Conservatives but who seem to have accidentally picked up the Labour party governing playbook by mistake.

It must be groundhog day.

On Class Warfare And Social Engineering

Veteran Labour MP Denis MacShane had a good think, and decided that the way to fix all that ails Britain is to introduce a draconian new method of social engineering. The BBC reports:

Only people on the minimum wage should be allowed to stand for Parliament in 10% of seats to make politics more representative, a Labour MP has said.

Denis MacShane said the backgrounds of MPs from all the main parties at Westminster had become far too narrow.

The backgrounds of MPs had become far too narrow? Seriously? I agree that there is a long way to go until the membership of the House of Commons comes remotely close to mirroring the population at large (if indeed this is even a desirable goal, which is questionable), but to suggest that we are moving backwards is surely pure lunacy? Has there ever been a time (the Blair Boom of 1997 aside) when the Commons has been more representative? And yet MacShane tries to convince us that a decades-long trend is underway, filling the Commons with wealthy landowners at the expense of everyone else.

Now, the BBC’s poor journalism makes it hard to divine exactly what Denis MacShane means. The BBC headline refers to “working class shortlists”, but the article only quotes MacShane advocating the idea that 10% of Parliamentary seats be reserved for those on the minimum wage. Both ideas are dumb, but it would be helpful if the BBC quoted MacShane properly, or at least came clean about what he is actually in favour of.

If a person earns 1p/hour above the minimum wage, would this render them ineligible to run for Parliament in those constituencies with “poverty shortlists”?

How would the Electoral Authority decide which parliamentary constituencies should have the shortlist? Would you select the wealthiest areas of the country, to stick it to all the rich suburbanites in Surrey and Kent, or let the “working man” represent his “own kind” by having the shortlists in traditionally lower-income constituencies such as my hometown of Harlow, Essex?

And if Denis MacShane literally means that 10% of Commons seats should be reserved for people who fall under the nebulous definition of “working class”, how are we going to define that? People on the minimum wage? People who did not go to university? People whose parents did not attend university? People who live in council housing? Does it depend on your accent, perhaps? Would I, as someone who grew up in a single parent household reliant on government benefits, be eligible to run as a “working class” candidate, even though I now earn a good salary?

What a useless contribution to the public debate.

How often do we hear politicians bemoaning the fact that their profession is “unrepresentative”, and expressing the hope that at some point (always indeterminately in the future) less people “like them” will hold the reins of power? Well, MacShane gives it to us again today:

Mr MacShane, an Oxford university graduate who worked as a journalist before becoming MP for Rotherham in 1994, said there needed to be fewer candidates with his kind of background in the future.

Feel free to do your part by resigning now to make way for the pilot scheme.