Monday, 19 June 2017
Theresa May Must Go
This cannot go on. Fairly or unfairly - it is a mixture of both but with the former in the clear majority - Theresa May is now seen as toxic: uncaring, unbending, formal and stiff. Her response to the Grenfell inferno has been correct in purely administrative terms but the optics and politics of it have been disastrous.
Chauncey is good at this kind of thing and it showed. His policy ideas were idiotic, juvenile and plain nasty as ever. But it didn't matter. He turned up and he listened and he showed he cared. Theresa May announced money and a full independent, judge-led inquiry. It was all that she could really do. But the fact that she once again opted not to speak to the public, to face their anger, to listen meant that none of this mattered.
The great irony of this is that the woman who once labelled her party the nasty party has now become the embodiment of that. As a consequence, even if she is not doing so already, she should consider her position. She should go into Downing Street, behind that lectern she likes so much, and announce that she is standing down. She should say this to her colleagues first of course in the hope that they will find some way of uniting behind a new leader without the need for a leadership election. The Conservative Party needs to step up and govern. It has a lot to do and it is not doing any of it well.
Theresa May has been found out. She is simply not up to the job. She was perfectly good at running a ministry in which being tough and uncompromising was an advantage. In that job she could hide away and do what she was good at without anyone noticing. You cannot do that as party leader and prime minister and yet that is exactly what she is trying to do. She looks out of her depth. She looks lost. She looks overwhelmed. Someone needs to have a quiet word with her and tell her to quit for her sake, for the Conservative Party's sake and for the sake of the country.
Unless they get a grip (as Boris accused others of lacking) the Conservative Party is in danger of handing the next election to Labour under a left wing extremist bent on class war and property appropriation. This is like 1992 all over again. The Grenfell disaster is a different kind of disaster to Britain's falling out of the ERM, but it has the potential to have the same impact on public opinion. The only remedy is for the party to get a grip and to install in Number 10 someone who is capable of doing all of the job and not just the part with which she is comfortable.
It's worse than that though because this government is rudderless. Theresa May was kept in office precisely because it was felt that it was best to have someone in office during this period of huge upheaval and existential debates and negotiations. Yet her powerlessness means that a vacuum has been created. The Cabinet itself is arguing and briefing against one another. Number 10 is doing nothing about it because it is in no position to do so. And this is only going to get worse. The Government is at the mercy of events. It goes into EU negotiations having conceded the whip hand to the Commission. We are going to get a catastrophically bad deal and the Tories will be blamed for it unless someone takes over and runs the show.
I backed Theresa May to become Prime Minister. I was wrong. She is not up to the job. She is a good and moral person, who cares about her party and her country. I don't doubt for a moment that she has been as moved by the events of Grenfell as the rest of us. But she had the kind of old fashioned British upbringing in which showing your emotions is not exactly frowned upon but regarded as weak. She is crippled by a social awkwardness and lack of personal confidence. She is incapable of being extemporaneous, of dealing with anything that isn't pre-scripted. She likes to take her time, consider matters fully and deeply, which is admirable but not always practical for a party leader and PM. She is not capable of connecting with people, of being witty and charming, of getting people to like her. This is not her fault. But you do have to wonder why someone with this inability to talk to real people who might ask awkward questions or be angry with her imagined she could be a successful leader of her party.
Mrs May should be honest with herself and with the country and admit this, perhaps not in so many words (she is incapable of this anyway) but it needs to be done. Something along the lines of: 'It has become clear to me that my continued presence in this job is impeding good government rather than facilitating it. I am therefore announcing my intention to step down.'
The Cabinet should then announce that it is uniting around Boris as the next PM and invite the parliamentary party to back them. That is the only way of rescuing this situation before it is too late. If absolutely necessary then we will have to have a leadership election, but it should start immediately and should be truncated as much as possible and concluded over the summer.
There were good arguments for keeping Theresa May in power for a while to get on with governing and dealing with the many plates she needs to keep spinning. But spinning is the very thing she has proven to be so disastrously bad at. Theresa May has to go and go now.