Archive for the 'Theresa May' Category


A Very English Vice

Thursday, September 12th, 2019

Where would we be without hypocrisy? It may have been described (by a Frenchman, unsurprisingly) as “the tribute vice pays to virtue” but a life of complete virtue would be, frankly, intolerable.

So let’s enjoy the various hypocrisies our leaders have served up to us in recent weeks:-

  • Mrs May honouring her former press secretary, Robbie Gibb, with a knighthood having, rather nastily, attacked Cameron’s press secretary, Craig Oliver, for his own. However hard poor Sir Robbie worked, a good press is not really what one immediately associates with Mrs May’s time in office.
  • Dominic Cummings being outraged at being asked for work messages on his phone barely a few days after having sacked Sonia Khan, the Chancellor’s SPAD, after seeing her contacts with former colleagues on her personal phone. Even being ferociously pro-Brexit, according to reports, was not enough to save her from being frog-marched from the building.
  • Serial rebellers such as Jacob Rees-Mogg lecturing others on the wickedness of rebelling once.
  • A demand by the PM that members of his government sign up to his “Exit on 31/10/19 Deal-or-No-Deal” pledge while, apparently, exempting his own brother from this requirement. It still was not enough to stop Jo walking out. Still, resignations and defections are so fast and furious these days that they barely even get their 15 minutes of fame. Angela Smith – anyone?
  • Demands for a General Election at every possible opportunity followed by a refusal to vote for one (twice) when the opportunity arises. Who knew that Jeremy Corbyn was a fan of the St Augustine approach to politics?
  •  A demand for a People’s Vote, to be enacted only if the People vote in the Approved Way. Perhaps it should simply be renamed the Potemkin Vote.
  • Heart-rending statements about how one doesn’t enact democracy by shutting it down followed shortly thereafter by complete silence when the PM does just that. Might the £150,000 salary and Cabinet Member on the CV have something to do with this volte-face?

Well, there is nothing tremendously new in this, enjoyable as it all is and, my God, we need some enjoyment from Brexit amongst all the psychodrama. Still, Parliament is now prorogued for 5 weeks. The government is now seemingly unable to win any vote at all. The opposition hope they have done enough to stop a disorderly withdrawal on 31 October. The next deadline is 19 October by when a letter needs to be sent to the EU to ask for yet more time for the government’s homework to be handed in.

Is is possible that this pause could be put to good effect? There is faint talk that the Withdrawal Agreement with a NI-only backstop might be a way forward. The DUP would hate it of course but the government is no longer dependant on it for a majority. (Perhaps they could be bribed by a large bridge to Scotland. It could be planted with trees amongst which customs officials could hide to pounce on smugglers and unsuspecting traders defiling the sanctity of the Single Market.

Boris gets his garden bridge. The infrastructure investment (or spaffing money up a wall, as it might well come to be called) in the North will be enormous. Win-win, all round. Oh I know – what a time to be taking such a frivolous approach to an important issue. But it is no sillier an idea than any other which has been mooted and, frankly, at this point even silly ideas must surely be welcome.)

Still the government’s very weakness as a minority government might, paradoxically, make it easier to present this as a way forward if (and what a big if this would be) other opposition parties realise that the only way to stop a disorderly withdrawal from the EU is to…. well … for an orderly one.

There is the option of a General Election of course but what are the chances of that returning anything other than another hung Parliament, in which case the whole dreary drama continues. No – an Irish solution needs to be found. Just as the Good Friday Agreement was based in essence on the Sunningdale Agreement from 1973 (an agreement which foundered when the intransigence of the ultras saw off a weak government. Oh the irony!) – “Sunningdale for slow learners” as Seamus Mallon put it – so it would be a fitting end to the Article 50 process if an orderly withdrawal was based on the agreement tentatively reached in December 2017 (which was then ditched for the now hated all-UK backstop). A NI only backstop is one quick – if imperfect – way out of the mess.

Of course, there is the teensy problem that Mrs May said – with the current PM sitting beside her nodding along – that no British Prime Minister could possibly agree to such an outrage – treating NI differently from the rest of the UK – as if this hasn’t been the way NI has been treated during its entire existence.  But that was then and this is now. Mrs May is no longer PM.

Boris is and he is quite superbly skilled in saying something today with absolute sincerity having said the complete opposite with equal sincerity only a few days previously. Cometh the hour, cometh the man! Presenting such an agreement as a testament to British negotiating skills and his determination to deliver Brexit on time would certainly not be past him. The EU would surely play their part by going along with the face-saving deception. Any recalcitrant ERGers could be reminded of what happened to the 21 rebels. The Opposition could claim that it was the Benn Act which forced the government to reach an agreement. And mostly everyone else would breathe a sigh of relief at the whole ghastly mess having reached some sort of denouement. No-one could possibly mind the monumental hypocrisy of everyone involved.

Yes – life is full of hypocrisies. But some of them can be useful ones.



Prime Minister May : Her electoral record

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019

When Theresa May became Prime Minister she spoke about wanting to make the JAM’s (Just About Managing) feel confident about voting Conservative. As she departs as Prime Minister, let’s see if the electorate have taken that message to heart.

Local Government By-Elections: July 2016 – July 2019
During the last three years there have been close to four hundred local by-elections up and down the country, each of those by-elections sees thousands of people walk into polling stations and cast real votes into real ballot boxes which are then counted and elect real councillors. Before the 2016 EU referendum, the 2016 local elections were deemed a success for the Conservatives recording a 2.5% swing to the Conservatives compared since the 2012 local elections. Since then of course we have had an EU referendum, a general election and European Elections we were never meant to have and yet, surprisingly, in terms of vote cast, the Conservative can emerge with their heads held high polling 33% of all votes cast (4% ahead of Labour), however there is one small problem and that is they’re not the ones making the gains. That belongs to the Liberal Democrats who, over the last three years, have put on an extra 7% of the vote (taking them from 11% to 18%) and making it only to clear that they are the biggest gainers and who has the Liberal Democrats been gaining seats from? The Conservatives. Comparing last time with the by-election, the Conservatives have made a net loss of 41 seats, Labour a net loss of 22 seats, UKIP a net loss of 21 seats and the Liberal Democrats making a net gain of 62 seats. The Liberal Democrat message of “B******S to Brexit” has worked wonders in local government.

Westminster By-Elections
And in terms of the share of vote, the same is true for the parliamentary by-elections since the arrival of the Prime Minister, however this is where the Liberal Democrats always have problems. Yes, no one can deny that by polling 19% of the vote in all the by-elections since Mrs. May entered Downing Street, they have increased over 13% on their score last time, but with only one gain during that time (Richmond Park) the fact that they have not had by-elections in their former heartlands means that gains have been very thin on the ground, but you certainly can’t dismiss a 11.5% swing from Con to Lib Dem nor a 9.5% swing from Lab to Lib Dem. However what is more noticeable is that despite there being a 2% swing from Con to Lab in those by-elections, Labour also has the same problem, indeed they are down one (having lost Copeland to the Conservatives which partly prompted the decision to call the 2017 general election). And what of the new boys, Brexit? Well, up 4% from a standing start isn’t bad, but until they win a seat (something that UKIP did twice in 2014) they will just be classed as “Also rans”

Opinion Polling July 2016 – July 2019
When the Prime Minister entered Downing Street, the Conservatives could do nothing wrong. A lead of 9% in the first month soon expanded to a staggering 19% in April 2017 and led to the decision to call a general election. And from that moment on it all went horribly wrong. UKIP’s vote collapsed during the campaign (precisely as the Conservatives hoped) falling from 11% in March 2017 to just 5% in May 2017, but instead of it all going to the Conservatives (+2%), it was Labour who made headway (+8%) and even when the election produced a hung Parliament Labour still climbed at UKIP’s expense getting a 2% lead in July 2017. From that moment on Britain was stumped. The Conservatives and Labour were virtually tied for a good 18 months, the Lib Dems, UKIP and Greens all bumping around between 4% and 9% and then it happened. First Change UK launched and instantly Labour took a dive (384% in Jan 2019 to 34% in Feb 2019) and then along came the Brexit Party and the Conservatives got hit for six dropping from 39% to 23% in a matter of weeks) with Brexit soaring overtaking the Liberal Democrats, but just as they overtook them, the Liberal Democrats started to soar and now we have a situation where instead of the two main parties getting 82% of the vote, we have four parties (Con, Lab, Lib Dem and Brexit) in a virtual dead heat within the margin of error.

So, what should we make of May’s premiership? Well, the one thing we can agree on is this. If Johnson’s premiership is as frantic as May’s, we are going to see a lot more “Too close to calls” and a lot fewer “Landslides”

Harry Hayfield


Diss-May. The manifest inadequacy of the outgoing Prime Minister

Saturday, July 20th, 2019

I come to bury Theresa May. She leaves the highest political office in the land with no achievements to her name. The country is more divided than when she took office. Its economy is faltering. She has found no resolution to Brexit, the task for which she was appointed Prime Minister. She has completely failed.

Mrs May might reasonably argue that the task was immense. So it was. She has made it worse.

The tragedy is that she understood part, but not all, of the task at hand. She saw correctly that the referendum result needed to be honoured in the spirit as well as the letter. To that end, she painstakingly identified the parameters of the result: the need to leave the single market; and the need to have the power to control immigration.

What she did not see, however, was the need to forge a consensus. The nation had just been split almost exactly in two by the question. It was divided and passions ran deep. As urgent a priority as finding the right path for Brexit was the need to get the country pulling in the same direction again. That required an attempt to get views from across the political spectrum.

This might have been attempted in a variety of ways. Perhaps the most obvious would have been a Royal Commission, with terms of reference set to ensure that the Commission report would produce a recommended approach consistent with the referendum result. (This would have required politicians across the political spectrum either to dip their hands in the blood or to consign themselves to carping from the sidelines.) That would have taken time. With the benefit of hindsight, however, the country needed some time out, not least to determine how to plan how to approach discussions with the EU. The EU would have benefited from a time-out too.

Would this have worked? Honestly, I’m doubtful. The deceitful xenophobia of the Leave campaign had left a large chunk of the Remain vote regarding the result as lacking moral legitimacy.  That would have been very hard to overcome. Just as hard to overcome would have been the empty nihilism of most Leavers who knew that they hated the EU viscerally but had no concept of where they might compromise in order to secure any positive aims, because they didn’t really have any. But it would have been worth a try.

Instead, Theresa May sought to settle Brexit singlehandedly. At a time when the country needed to be inclusive, she sought to impose. She did not have the strength of will or the breadth of vision.

Mrs May compounded the mistake with her approach to language. When she condemned those who saw themselves as citizens of the world as “citizens of nowhere”, many doubting Remain voters mentally checked out from a project that was evidently going to be designed to exclude them.

She did nothing to stop talk of saboteurs, traitors, enemies of the people and quislings among Leavers. This talk simultaneously pushed Remain voters to see this as a project that could never be for them and pulled Leavers further to the extremes.

A well-timed intervention from the top could have reasserted a civic unity. But she simply did not see the need and the drift to two tribes only accelerated.

Most seriously, when Theresa May announced that no deal was better than a bad deal, she legitimised the idea of no deal Brexit (an idea that she evidently thought was terrible because she did nothing to prepare for it) and she bolstered the expectations of hardline Leavers that they had nothing to compromise on.

This made it easy, as the outlines of the deal unfurled, for her hardline Leave opponents to label it as a sell-out. Since she had done her level best to exclude anyone who had voted Remain from having any sense of shared purpose in the process, she got no support there.  

As you sow, so shall you reap. Having effectively told Leavers that they need not compromise and having told Remainers that the terms were going to be dictated to them, Theresa May found that a compromise that required selling had no buyers.  

So by December 2018, Theresa May had clearly failed in her appointed task of obtaining a Brexit deal that the country could live with.  She then made her most unforgivable mistake. Having clearly failed, she did not change course and she did not resign. She squatted in Downing Street, acting as an active impediment to finding other resolutions. She consciously ran the country out of options in an attempt to reverse her failure.

Her deal, however, was dead in December. It is now July. Those seven months have driven the country still further to extremes. The talk is of no deal Brexit (perhaps secured by suspending Parliament) or of revoking the referendum decision (perhaps without a fresh vote). No one talks of compromise. This is her legacy.

Theresa May is not a bad woman. She evidently has a strong sense of public duty.  She was, however, wholly inadequate to the task she had been given. The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones. So it will be with Theresa May.

Alastair Meeks


It is now an 91% chance that TMay will be out this year

Monday, May 13th, 2019

From chart of Betfair market

Aside from the Euro elections next week the other big UK political betting market which has seen a lot of activity is on the date when TMay will finally step aside. After the local elections two weeks ago and the impending disaster for her party a week on Thursday this surely will be the moment when she finally runs out of time.

Yet will she? One thing we know is that she isn’t going of her own accord. She will have to be forced out and until now her party colleagues have never had the bottle to force the issue.

The confusing part about all of this is that there have been so many false alarms before. At one stage I was counting the number of front page stories in the national press which were predicting Theresa May’s imminent political demise and they were all proved wrong.

TMay has made her total mission in life over the past three year to implement the 2016 referendum and she hasn’t given up.

Her resolve and determination to achieve the goal runs so deep that you cannot judge her by other political leaders. She’s suffered commons revolt after commons revolt with the worst votes ever against a government ever but she has stuck to her task.

I certainly would not bet on her going this year at current odds.

Mike Smithson


If Graham Brady had acted differently in July 2016 TMay might never have become PM

Monday, May 13th, 2019

And the last three years could have been very different

With the pressure ratcheting up in the Tory party against TMay it is perhaps worth recalling how she got the job in the first place in July 2016. Boris was the longstanding favourite but pulled out following Michael Gove’s surprise entry into the race. In the MP balloting TMay came top with Andrea Leadsom second.

So Leadsom and Theresa May were two names that were to go to the membership. But on the following Monday Leadsom pulled out after a huge furore over her comments in the Times about the fact that she was a mother and Theresa May wasn’t. This was seen as an unfair attack on Theresa May and she eventually stepped aside.

It is at that point, looking back, that the chairman of the 1922 committee, Graham Brady, made a decision that was to change everything. He declared Theresa May the winner without her having to go through the process of facing a leadership ballot of the membership.

There is a strong case for saying that what he should have done was to go to the next in line in the MPs ballot, which happened to be Michael Gove, and these two would have been the choice that went to the membership.

Brady’s move meant that Mrs May, who’s never been known to like being questioned or being accountable, was able to take the job without the scrutiny that such a membership campaign would have inevitably involved. As we saw at GE2017 she isn’t good as an election campaigner

I believe that the whole process of the members ballot with the associated huge media coverage and examination of the contenders would have exposed some of Mrs May’s worst features and that she might not have made it.

Winning a membership ballot would have added to her legitimacy for there has always been a problem that she was a Remainer .

And so she struggles on.

Mike Smithson


There’s something rather magnificent about the way TMay just keeps keeps hanging in there

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019

Whenever her detractors think she’s in a corner she always manages to play for time

So another day and another key confrontation for TMay over when she is going to finally step down as CON leader and Prime Minister. Like all  others such key moments, it seems, she has found a way to get a key decision deferred till next week or the week after with the result that the pressure for now is offloaded. This is wonderful to watch.

Those Tory MPs who want her out, and it is said that the number is growing, must really be furious about the ERG attempt last December to force a vote of no confidence against her. She survived as we all know that means she has 12 months immunity from a further challenge. Now they are trying to change the rules.

Since the party conference last October I have lost count of the number of front pages of the Times,  Sunday Times, the Sun, the Mail, the Telegraph and others that have warned of imminent doom for Mrs May. But it has never happened and even though she is pursuing a policy on Brexit which is alien to a large part of her party she is still there in control.

Looking back it all went wrong for CON MPs when she reported to the 1922 Committee on the Monday evening after she had lost the Tory majority on June 8th 2017. That was the moment, surely, when they should have been firm and got her out. As the former Chancellor, George Osborne, observed in the hours after the election result  she was a dead woman walking. Well Theresa has proved him wrong many many times over.

She’s helped, of course, by a lack of unanimity within the party over who should be the successor and the warring factions between the different groupings of brexiteers who are not going to compromise.

I am one of many punters who has lost money betting that she’d be out early but I’m keeping out of the market now. Currently it’s 84% chance on Betfair that she’ll gothis year.  I just wonder whether she might make it into 2020. Whatever her resilience is truly magnificent to behold.

Mike Smithson



What better front pages for TMay on the day of the big local elections

Thursday, May 2nd, 2019

She  comes over as decisive firm and tough

The conventional wisdom is that you don’t want negative stories about your party to be making the headlines on the day of any elections. Everything is about turnout, particularly with the locals, and all efforts should be made to ensure that your base and your activists are out there enthusiastically going to the polls and getting out the vote.

So I just wonder whether the very public sacking Gavin Williamson yesterday evening was part of a Number 10 plan to present the Prime Minister in a much more positive light.

There’s little doubt that over the last few weeks ahead of the elections that CON canvassers have been hearing a very similar message from their supporters on the doorstep. The process of trying to get the Brexit deal through Parliament has led to Theresa appearing indecisive and weak. What better way of countering that than to have her seem to be acting in a such forthright manner when the victim is not someone who is universally popular (remember the Private Pike jokes).

One thing we know about Theresa May is that she is very keen on local government. She is a former councillor herself and even as PM is known to regularly do door-to-door canvassing for local elections in her constituency. She must have been very aware that a very poor result tonight could be a trigger for a move against her.

My guess is that the Tories are still going to have a bad set of your local elections today but the scale of the seat losses that have been predicted might not come about. It doesn’t take much in low turnout elections for a little bit of extra enthusiasm from party voters and supporters to make a big difference.

Tomorrow morning I might be proved right that public sacking of Gavin Williamson was a master stroke.

Mike Smithson



TMay sacks the man who ran her 2016 leadership campaign

Wednesday, May 1st, 2019

And the betting opens on the replacement

Mike Smithson