28th February 2017
–By Barnabus Howard-
Theresa May Be For Or Against Anything
Theresa May hasn’t really done any leading yet. She was after all the recipient of what must be a world record for the number of withdrawals from a leadership election. She barely got to define her plans or her vision, and ‘pop!’ – Prime Minister. I’m not going to ask you to feel sorry for her, but she is in what must be the most bizarre premiership this country has ever seen.
What happens when you become leader? Well, you assemble your cabinet or shadow cabinet from those who agree with you, those who you can work with on a particular issue, and a few rivals that you cannot ignore and/or you don’t want pissing on you from the outside. The backbenchers are therefore by definition either not influential enough, or too extreme for your tastes in one form or another.
You then have a government or opposition to face. You use the opposition as the electoral stick to keep your own backbenchers in place, “it’s not that I disagree with you [Mr or Ms Lunatic MP – even though I do] but if I take your advice the opposition will fillet us at the ballot box”. In turn you, if PM, use that fragile loyalty to avoid the opposition ever turning you over.
Of course, the longer you are leader the less well it works; eventually you face a backbench rebellion. In time this either ends in electoral defeat, a leadership election or alternatively the “fear” of electoral defeat. Now, if it is either of the two former options then likely you are no longer leader and cease to care. But should it be the latter then that is often enough to reset the clock for a year or so and on you go.
But back to Theresa; her backbenchers are no different from any others, more shrill and extreme than she is (I think you’ll find that a mere three minutes listening to John Redwood, IDS or Phillip Davies will bear me out – as mad as a box of frogs), but they have no credible fear of electoral defeat. It doesn’t seem to matter whether Mrs May does something good, something bad or even anything at all… her lead in the polls remains massive.
Having not had the time or leadership contest to define herself, I can’t imagine that she is in any place to shake off her backbenchers. I have no issue with an “unelected prime minister”, that is just a part of the First Past The Post system. But in this instance not even the Tories elected her. She is, until she wins a general (or leadership) election, Schrödinger’s cat. Both alive and dead at once.
Two recent issues, the scheduled Business Rates hike, and the changes to the insurer payout formula, seem to suggest some incompetence on the part of her team. Sajid Javid was even accused of misleading his own MPs for crying out loud!
Both may seem like pretty niche issues for the man or woman in the street, but are actually important. Rebecca Long-Bailey made a good effort to point out some issues with the business rates hike, but not enough of an effort. The current Labour Party leadership seems unable to articulate any position that both makes sense to voters AND could fix the issue.
Being a very financially literate chap, I was somewhat dismayed to find no real substantive response by the Labour Party, and instead find John McDonnell spending his time pontificating on “unity”. Unity in what I ask?
I specifically did not mention by-elections or Brexit in this post because I think they form a convenient smoke screen for the lack of ministerial-type activity or focus from the Labour Party leadership. If I’ve gone looking for it and can’t find it, what chance does your average voter stand?
Meanwhile, May can spend her time mulling over what she may become after 2020.
By Barnabus Howard