Matthew d’Ancona: The Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster will be running the UK.
Another election preferable to a Government propped up by a gang of homophobes, creationists and enemies of gender equality. Has the prime minister no shame?
Arlene Foster and the DUP pictured at Stormont. Through long experience, the politicians of Northern Ireland are masters of power-sharing, deal-making and concession-squeezing. They will run rings round the Tories. David Young/PA Wire
I agree with Jeremy. As the Labour leader told the BBC’s Andrew Marr on Sunday, the present parliamentary configuration is more or less unsustainable. There is every chance that there will be another general election before the end of the year, and in my view there should be.
Like so many commentators, I radically underestimated Corbyn’s appeal to the voters: I assumed that he was building a political club rather than an electoral movement, and I was dead wrong. I still think his manifesto is undeliverable, but that’s a different point. It’s a fair cop.
Equally, I continue to believe that there was much to recommend Theresa May’s plan to reach out to working-class voters , to reform social care so that nobody lost their homes during their lifetime, and to combat extremism . But that plan conspicuously failed to secure a majority. So what now?
Every step the prime minister has taken since the election has reinforced my conviction that she should already have announced a resignation timetable. There has been not a hint of contrition, humility or – to be frank – connection with the new political realities.
The sacrifice of her chiefs of staff, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, was a disgraceful revival of the 17th-century notion of “evil counsel” – as if these two advisers were to blame for the disaster, rather than the boss they advised. Much worse, the proposed deal with the Democratic Unionists party is wrong in principle, and idiotic in practice. In aligning herself with Northern Ireland’s theocratic alt-right, May will undo a 20-year long process of Tory “detoxification” – a process in which she played a noble part by daring to tell her party in 2002 that it was perceived as “nasty”.
The DUP is a gang of homophobes, creationists and enemies of gender equality. Has the prime minister no shame? And, if shame does not do the trick, what about political calculation? In the immediate aftermath of an election energised by young voters and an unexpected surge of optimism, the worst conceivable response is to stand shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of joyless reactionaries . As one seasoned Tory MP put it to me with admirable candour: “It will ensure we get obliterated at the next election”.
The counter-argument is that the country needs stability as it enters the Brexit talks, and faces clear and present danger from terrorism and economic uncertainty. What amazes me is the notion that this stability will be provided by a Tory-DUP deal to make the last days of Jim Callaghan and John Major look like a parliamentary stroll in the park.
Through long experience, the politicians of Northern Ireland are masters of power-sharing, deal-making and concession-squeezing. They will run rings round the Tories. The Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster will essentially be running the country.
So – ghastly as it is contemplate another Tory leadership contest and another general election – I think they are preferable to what is on offer. Which brings us to the question of runners and riders.
Quite understandably, many Conservative MPs wish that Ruth Davidson were a potential successor to May. The Tories’ Scottish leader not only saved the UK party from catastrophe by winning 13 seats north of the border. In her manner, moderacy and capacity to connect, she incarnates precisely what the Conservatives now need if they are to match the Corbyn surge.
But – short of an awkwardly staged byelection to parachute her into the Commons – it is hard to see how she enters the fray in time. She would, in any case, recoil from such a stratagem, which would be quite at odds with her straightforward style and aversion to scheming.
The foreign secretary always keeps a hat about his person to throw into the nearest ring
Naturally, Boris Johnson is in the frame , as he has been, at least in his own opinion, since he was at school. One MP associated with his candidacy last year told me: “I would do literally anything to stop him if he ran again.” That pledge will surely be tested in the foreseeable future, as the foreign secretary always keeps a hat about his person to throw into the nearest ring.
His supporters will speak glowingly of the “Heineken factor” – his ability to reach parts of the country that other Tories cannot reach – and his electoral record against leftwing opponents as the conqueror in London (twice) of Ken Livingstone. His detractors will refer no less forcefully to whelk stalls, breweries and knowing the difference between elbows and other parts of the body. What is certain is that there will be no coronation of King Boris.
In which context, do not discount Amber Rudd. In fact, give the home secretary the serious consideration she deserves. In the seven-way shouting match of the BBC leaders’ debate on 31 May, she stood in for the prime minister, though her elderly father had died only days before, and did so with poise, dignity and emotional intelligence as six other politicians berated her. She looked like a leader in waiting.
What’s interesting is that a group of moderates in the party – expecting a different outcome in the referendum – were already preparing the ground last summer for Rudd to succeed David Cameron once he decided to quit at a time of his choosing. That germinal plan, of course, was disrupted by the vote to leave the EU and Cameron’s instant departure. My point is that the idea of a green light for Amber is not completely new.
As a former campaigner for remain, she would doubtless need a Brexiteer running mate to reassure the parliamentary party. The trickier hurdle to a plausible candidacy is her tiny majority of 346 in Hastings and Rye . This would certainly trouble many MPs and Tory members. But they should bear this in mind. With the exception of May (whose tally in Maidenhead declined by 1.1 percent on Thursday), every prime minister in the past 40 years has increased his or her share of the constituency vote in the general election after they became party leader (by 8.5 percent in Margaret Thatcher’s case, 10.8 percent in Tony Blair’s, and 9.4 percent in Cameron’s). I find it hard to believe that prime minister Rudd would lose her seat.
For now, this is all speculation. But it should not remain so much longer. This is not a moment for delay or procrastination. It is a moment for graceful urgency. It is also emphatically a time to put country before political tribe. May surely needs no reminding of Disraeli’s maxim that “the Tory party, unless it is a national party, is nothing”. If her colleagues will not persuade the prime minister to make a swift exit, let patriotism do the job.