Let’s start with their Prime Minister. Rarely has any politician managed to finish off their honeymoon period quite so quickly and completely. She had an easy ride into power because her opponents were busy fighting each other. We then had weeks of the press telling us what a strong and stable leader she was and how much we could depend on her ability to pull the whole nation together and steer us through Brexit. That all sounded quite convincing to a lot of people and it won her a landslide at the local elections in May. So much so that she made the fundamental mistake of believing her own propaganda.
Going to the country as “Strong and stable” and demanding a huge majority is a pretty good tactic. Provided of course that you aren’t weak and unreliable. One week she supported Brexit. The next she wanted national unity behind hard Brexit. One week she backed Hammond’s budget decision to put VAT on the self-employed. The next week she didn’t. One week she was going to take away homes owned by elderly people who needed care. The next week she wasn’t.
Indeed she proved so weak and unreliable that no one could quite tell what her policies were because she kept changing her mind about things she’d announced in her manifesto a couple of days earlier. And that was all without the small problem that she was a Prime Minister who felt awkward and uncomfortable debating ideas with opponents or meeting ordinary people. Things which are normally quite important for the job.
Yet despite all these failings the Conservatives daren’t get rid of her. Because they would then have to tear themselves apart trying to agree on a replacement. This would be hard enough for them if the difficulty was just getting a consensus between two parts of a political party which don’t share a vision of the future. They have the added difficulty of a remarkable lack of available talent.
May got to be leader by saying as little as possible. That way she could look stately and avoid entering into squalid arguments or saying anything stupid. Boris Johnson proved quite willing to do that job. He shoots his mouth off with remarkable regularity and little forethought. For a long time he got away with fooling a lot of people that he was covering up his massive brainpower behind the disguise of a bumbling amateur. Being expensively educated and possessing a good knowledge of Latin can do that for you. Then he started telling us that he had a secret scheme to have cake and eat it. Before long he was cutting such a figure of grotesque incompetence that it was clear even to his strongest supporters that it wouldn’t be a good idea to put someone so utterly unreliable in charge of the country. Rarely has any politician displayed such a steely determination to demonstrate that being highly educated and possessing wisdom and intelligence are not the same thing.
By contrast Michael Gove has demonstrated that he is too clever for his own good and certainly to get the support of his party. Dumping Johnson so that he could stand for PM himself was the perfect way to ensure that he can never be PM. Everyone could now see that he couldn’t be trusted any further than he could be thrown. That isn’t the most endearing of characteristics to put before the electorate. It would be nice to think that a spell out of power in which he got a long hard look at the end of his career taught him a lesson and he has come back as a convinced champion of Green business ideas. I fear that he has instead simply decided that he needs to rebuild some semblance of a reputation for honesty and is hoping that saying nice things about the environment whilst spending precious little money on it will prove good enough to do the job. It is unlikely to work and the party can’t put forward as a potential Prime Minister someone who is best known for betrayal.
The list of the other ones they can’t is a long one. Cameron is finished. Osborne is finished. Hammond isn’t trusted by the right of the party. Nicky Morgan got dumped by May for daring to be competent and independent minded. And then there’s a long tail of second raters who don’t have enough name recognition to get above Pointless if contestants on the famous quiz show were asked to trawl their memories for UK politicians.
All of which is leading the Conservatives to the ultimate act of desperation. More than half of their members now think that their best future leader is Rees Mogg.
When I first read this in the Daily Telegraph I could scarcely believe that it was true. Now it has been taken up by the BBC and is being repeated with great regularity. Almost as if someone was trying to build a head of steam behind his candidacy.
The idea would be comic if it wasn’t so tragic. A party that once prided itself on leading “One Nation” is seriously considering the possibility of being led by a man with 6 kids who has never changed a nappy. This is not the best way to endear yourself to a high proportion of female voters. I doubt whether they will be brought onside by his smug assurance that this was OK because he employed a nanny to do it. That statement comes from a man who tells us regularly about the faults of the nanny state. Faced with the choice between a nanny rich Prime Minister and a Labour leader launching a full on attack on privilege it is possible that people will touch their forelocks and bend their knee in respect and vote for a genuine reactionary who opposes abortion and gay rights. It is also possible that electors will slaughter Rees Mogg at the polls and the Conservatives will finish themselves off for decades if they choose to be led by him.
So the mess of a leadership vacuum looks likely to continue. May lurches on. Backed by no one. But no one to replace her. Unless that is you take seriously the chances of the man who is leading us through these difficult Brexit negotiations.
David Davis does his best to convince himself that he sounds like a figure responsible business people could trust. If he could actually achieve that it would go down well with the Conservative Party and also with a large number of unaligned voters. There are just one or two small problems. Firstly Davis has to lead us through Brexit without too many problems before he becomes plausible. Just at the moment it rather looks like he is swanning off and leaving his office juniors in charge a little too often. Before coming back and making rude remarks about the people he’s trying to negotiate with. Oh, and of course, putting forward ideas for how it is all going to work which are weak, woolly and show no signs of offering a clear route to a sensible compromise.
Nevertheless our brave leader of the Brexit negotiations is, incredibly, the most plausible candidate that the Conservatives have got to replace May. He may be bland and boring but compared to the rest those characteristics are starting to look pretty attractive. If he is a touch lazy and uninterested in bothering with details then that may be a small price for the Party to pay for him not being completely toxic. After all David Cameron got away with those faults and was Party Leader for close on ten years.
And no one could possibly think his leadership ended badly. Could they???!!!!!