Theresa May is the only choice for leader

Published by The ipaper (4th July, 2016)

Just a few days ago those leading the push for Brexit were arguing they represented all those voters fed up with the elite. They declared with heavy intent how they headed an insurgency against ‘the establishment’, which was ignoring ordinary people while playing political games in Brussels and Westminster. And they duped enough people, helped by vague declarations of sovereignty combined with lies over immigration and the national health service, that they squeaked victory in a stupidly-held referendum.

Now look at those supposed saviours of our nation. They have been exposed as a bunch of backstabbers, hypocrites and narcissists, the most unappealing sort of self-serving political operators who sacrificed Britain’s stability in their lust for power. These people have no idea how to achieve their promises and have backtracked already on key pledges. Now they fight among themselves like ferrets in a sack while still promoting the myth of an instant trade deal with the European Union that protects jobs while preventing free movement of people.

No wonder David Cameron looks relieved to be escaping Downing Street. But the result of his departure is that at this time of crisis, with the pound down and jobs already slipping abroad, the focus at Westminster is largely on the future of the Tories. This is unseemly, but also unsurprising. The Labour Party seems set on a long march into oblivion while we witness an attempted putsch by a hard-right cabal in the Conservatives to reclaim their party from more moderate forces. Brexit was merely a means to achieve long-held aims.

Yet this is a leadership battle of immense importance. We have just endured a referendum fueled by intolerance that left Britain fractured on many fronts and our economy perched on a precipice. The next prime minister needs to heal the wounds of recent months that pitted old against young, rich against poor, city against provinces. They must try to save our union, protect the economy from the worst turbulence and redefine our relationship with both an infuriated Europe and the rest of the world. They must, in short, seek a path through the morass left by last month’s vote.

The Brexit camp say with tedious inevitability the next prime minister must be one of their own. There is a superficial thought that maybe they should be left to clear up the mess caused by their own stupidity, since the next occupant of Downing Street faces such a torrid time. Perhaps Boris Johnson might one day even have cause to be grateful to his nemesis Michael Gove. But this is a spurious argument. It is another sign of how they seek to use this crisis for their own narrow ends – and we have seen enough of these pathetic political games when the country’s well-being is at stake.

I have long thought Cameron would be succeeded by Theresa May, possibly the most intriguing figure in British politics. She always seemed to offer calm contrast to both the bumbling bombast of Boris and the chess-playing approach to politics beloved by George Osborne. She was tough enough to survive the home office for six years, face down the police and see off any threats from Downing Street, while privately she displays a more compassionate approach. I was always struck, for instance, by her genuine commitment to tackling police brutality in custody and abuse of stop-and-search procedures.

Aides say she seeks to avoid definition, one describing her as ‘a solid Burkean Conservative but with a modern twist.’ Certainly it should never be forgotten she was the proto-moderniser who back in 2002 told Tory conference delegates they were seen as the nasty party. She also accused colleagues of trying to ‘make political capital out of demonising minorities’ – which is interesting after the hideous tone of the referendum debate. And it is worth noting Lynne Featherstone, Liberal Democrat architect of the gay marriage law, said May’s support was the key to convincing Tories to back their proposal.

Against this, she has a depressing record on immigration. She was responsible for vile ‘Go Home’ vans and made a horrible speech to last year’s party conference. Now she says the status of EU migrants currently here is a matter for debate, a foolish stance that fuels uncertainty for many individuals, private firms and public services. Unfortunately, none of the quintet standing would be any better on this litmus test issue. How the nation needs a politician on the right prepared to show real leadership on migration and globalisation after Boris threw in his lot with Ukip in that failed attempt to further his personal ambition.

There is one glimmer of good news in this Westminster farce: it seems likely both Tories selected for the run-off ballot among members will be women given Gove’s sudden, self-inflicted and regrettable toxicity. Little-known Andrea Leadsom has become candidate of the hard-right cabal after a couple of decent performances in debates. Her supporters include Ukip paymaster Aaron Banks, leading one May ally to suggest Ukip might be trying to mimic the way Momentum seized control of the Labour party.

Leadsom claims ‘a passion for social justice agenda’ yet failed to support gay marriage. Laughably, she compares herself to Margaret Thatcher despite a paucity of parliamentary achievements. And she is someone who, as the Mail on Sunday revealed, only three years ago was arguing Brexit ‘would be a disaster for our economy and it would lead to a decade of economic and political uncertainty’. She was right, of course. But clearly she believes, like others in her triumphant camp, the nation’s future is less important than their own. No wonder there is burning resentment against Westminster.

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