As I See It
May has lost the nation’s trust and should go
The Prime Minister had been buoyed by polls in the months preceding the referendum on Britain’s EU membership indicating a landslide for the Remain campaign. It had been unthinkable that the country would opt to pull out.
Then it did. The vote on 23 June shocked the nation and the political pundits were caught off guard. So were the markets which plunged, along with the pound. A new word – Brexit – entered the language, Cameron resigned and within six weeks we had a new Tory leader and Prime Minister.
Theresa May issued her famous “Brexit means Brexit” speech and began talking of a tough, if unspecified, approach to negotiating Britain’s departure.
History, of course, has a habit of repeating itself. Just as Cameron approached the EU vote on a wave of optimism, so Mrs May thought she would command an even larger majority in the House when she called a general election in April. As with her predecessor, the country delivered a different message – and the pundits were again caught by surprise.
A year on from the EU vote Mrs May now enters talks in Brussels on Monday in a weaker position than she expected. With the knives out and conspirators plotting her demise she may not even survive long enough to book another trip.
It is understandable that she wants to apply a firm hand and provide some leadership. Sadly, she has shown only a remarkable inability to read the mood of the nation and the political community.
She presides over a shambolic state of affairs of her own making. A badly run election campaign and an arrogant and haughty failure to mention it in her post-election address led to the resignation of her key advisers and resentment from senior figures in the party who felt she had lost the plot.
Her misguided response to the Grenfell tower disaster only exacerbated the growing view of a PM void of emotion and incapable of making the correct judgement call. She has turned herself into an object of derision and the made the country a laughing stock around the world.
On 9 June Mrs May should have done the decent thing – accepted that despite being leader of the biggest party she had lost the confidence of the nation. Or at least enough of it to show that her much-vaunted attempt at building unity had failed.
We now have the prospect of the most important talks over Britain’s future being started by a Prime Minister who cannot guarantee she will be around for the next meeting with her European counterparts.
To mis-quote Oscar Wilde, losing one PM may seem unfortunate, but losing two would be seen as carelessness, though it looks the most likely outcome as divisions in her party come to the fore.
Philip Hammond, whom she has reluctantly re-appointed as Chancellor, showed little regard for loyalty when he said in a television interview that the election campaign should have focused more on the economy. He was also unhappy at his own low profile. These are hardly words designed to underpin his boss’s authority.
While she steps delicately into negotiations in Brussels she is also engaged in frantic attempts to build a “working majority” in the Commons via a rather dubious deal with the Democratic Unionist Party; this in spite of warnings from the likes of former PM John Major that the UK government was obliged to remain neutral in Northern Irish politics, lest the Good Friday agreement begin to unravel.
Mrs May is said to have waited 20 years to enter Downing Street and she will not want to be calling the removal van any time soon if she can help it. Her tenure, however, may be outwith her control amid warnings this weekend that she has 10 days to convince her own party that she deserves to remain in power.