And So It Begins. Tories Scheme to Cling to Power

Jaws across the country collectively dropped when Theresa May walked back into 10 Downing Street last Friday. Her brief declaration outside before doing so was perhaps one of the weirdest moments ever witnessed in British politics: her blank-eyed assertion that nothing much had happened the night before suggested she was suffering from shock and deeply deluded.

Those who oppose May and her party’s shameful attempt to cling on to power at all costs should not be fooled: May was clearly struggling in that instant to come to terms with what had happened. But the Tories are inveterate schemers and scheming is what they will have been doing since last Friday morning.

Since the election, senior Tories have beat a dishonourable retreat, leaving May to endure her public humiliation alone. It appears the soon-to-be former Prime Minister’s penance for her party’s election failure is to absorb the flak unaided. This is diverting it from her colleagues and buying them time to thrash out what to do next.

The initial plan appears to be for May to remain in post but serving entirely at the mercy of the Cabinet. Her belated apology to unseated MPs resembled a hostage video plea that had been dictated to her to read out. The sacking of her two close aides, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, and a barely discernible reshuffle provided further evidence of May’s puppet PM status.

The only significant change to the Cabinet is the return of Michael Gove, officially as Secretary of State for the Environment. Unofficially, Gove is likely to act as Rupert Murdoch’s representative to the government and vice versa, thus ensuring gentler coverage from his papers than has been the case over the past few days.

the onus is now on Labour to counter the Tories attempts to reposition themselves

How long May lasts depends to some degree on how far the party elite has managed to fight it out behind closed doors. Boris Johnson may well insist on being a candidate. But that joke is not funny anymore. The Tories would be mad to select a man who has exposed himself to the voters as self-obsessed, and serially dishonest.

Far more likely to emerge is a clean skin; trusted within the party but not particularly well-known to the public. On this basis, Damian Green’s appointment as de facto Deputy Prime Minister could be significant.

After a sufficient interval for enough fury to be expended on May from both inside and outside the party, a candidate such as Green could come forward to present an emollient face, relatively untainted by recent calamities.

History shows that changing course comes easily to the Tories. When it comes to the crunch, they are not encumbered by cherished values or deeply-held beliefs. Or at least, none that supersede the imperative of holding power to protect the wealth and privilege of their kith and kin. Already they have declared that austerity is dead.

Once she has divested the Tories of their unpopular positions, May becomes much less useful. A new leader, such as Green, could then move swiftly to present a new programme.

This could include the softer Brexit rhetoric much of the electorate wants to hear. Reduced austerity and prizes to mollify the elderly voters spooked by the social care affair will also be touted. They might even offer something sweet to the young ones too. If they are fast learners, they will also present it without constant recourse to intelligence-insulting soundbites.

The Tories craving for power means they will strive to extract themselves from their self-inflicted chaos. But they may have damaged their credibility with the public too much to succeed quickly enough.

Rather than being caught up in the euphoria created by the surprise result, the onus is now on Labour to counter the Tories attempts to reposition themselves. They can do so by sticking together and continuing to build support for their increasingly popular, positively expressed messages.

As well as those seats they won, Labour’s surge turned many more marginal. Whatever the Tories do, Labour now has a golden opportunity to convert its gains into full-blown victory at the next general election.


More about the author

About the author

Paul Knott began his working life in a hut on Hull's King George Dock before globetrotting for two decades as an unlikely British envoy. His "instructive and funny" (Alan Johnson MP) book about his experiences, "The Accidental Diplomat", is out now.

He is also the Chief Foreign Correspondent for the Sabotage Times and contributes to publications such as The Telegraph, Forty-20 and When Saturday Comes.

All that travel has failed to shift Paul's inherited old Labour instincts.

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