What did we Brits do to deserve this government?
Well, for a start, we voted for Brexit. If we had voted otherwise, then perhaps we would at least have a government that could find the time and the inclination to govern. As it is, Brexit is all-consuming. Ministers may or may not be on top of their briefs but they tend to be judged, and some will stand or fall, on where they stand on the European question.
But Brexit can’t be blamed for everything. We seem to be saddled with an administration that on any issue is at best barely credible and at worst the most incompetent government this country has ever had. Individual members of the cabinet may be efficient, but collectively they are guilty of that cardinal and usually fatal political sin of being accident-prone. If there is a hole in the metaphorical pavement, some cabinet member striding purposefully to a meeting will fall into it, even if they know it is there. If there is a ladder in the way, they will walk under it for bravado and a pot of paint will fall on their head. The only reason some cabinet ministers survive is that so many of their colleagues have fallen into holes or been drenched in paint that they are safe in office anyway if only to preserve the patent fiction that the cabinet is a smooth-functioning and united entity. It is, of course, neither.
With the departure of the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, over the so-called ‘Windrush’ scandal – the children of Caribbean immigrants having to prove their citizenship half a century after the Empire Windrush brought their parents here – the Prime Minister has lost five ministers in twelve months. Or is it six. Who is counting any more? The only surprise is that there were not more.
Leaving aside his boorish outbursts, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson might have been fired for cause on at least three occasions. David Davis seems to be ceding more ground in the Brexit talks to his opposite number than France gave up to the Wehrmacht, and at even greater speed. Mind you, that probably makes him something of an accidental hero to Remainers, who see his concession as justifying their position.
Everything about this government is accidental. Amber Rudd is said to have been an able and efficient minister. How, then, could she go before a parliamentary committee, one that she must have known was lying in wait for her, and tell blatant untruths? There can be only two reasons: either she didn’t know the facts; or she did know the facts and tried to wriggle her way out of them by fibbing. Either way, she had to go. Next, please!
Not for nothing is the Home Office known as a political hospice. Home Secretaries have filled its graveyard to overflowing in recent times. Interestingly, Theresa May proved to be the exception that proved the rule, surviving the experience for a record tenure of six years, before going from there to 10 Downing Street. Well good for her, I say, if not for the rest of us.
Other than having the fortune, or misfortune, of presiding over Britain’s departure from the European Union – as messy a process as it has proved to be – this Conservative government has one thing, and only one thing, going for it: Her Majesty’s Opposition. A Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn with an avowed Marxist as Chancellor of the Exchequer, is prospectively an even greater disaster than this one. Even Conservative members of parliament can agree on that – and if truth be told, most Labour members, as well. Corbyn does not control his party, it controls him. And a sinister and cynical bunch of unreconstructed Russia-lovers and Israel-haters they have proved to be. Corbyn may not be an anti-Semite, if many of his supporters are, but there are only 330,000 Jewish voters, so why care if they desert the party in droves.
As for what the voters think of it all, one hesitates to speculate. The Conservatives are running ahead – just – in the opinion polls, but pollsters are a discredited and dispirited bunch these days, and in any event, they all agree that an election held now would be more or less a toss-up. We live in dangerous times.
So the May government staggers on, from one misstep to the next. Few would bet against more ministerial resignations before the year is out, given the growing number of un-repaired pot-holes.
May herself survives, in nautical terms standing drenched on the bridge while the ship of state emerges from one towering swell only to plunge into the next one. Few of her officers are prepared to give her credit for keeping the thing afloat. Many, of course, secretly blame her for sailing into the storm in the first place.
They remind me of the officers in The Caine Mutiny – mutinous but gutless. You know it will be all over for Theresa May when she starts to examine who might have been helping themselves to the Downing Street tea bags. In this scenario, I picture Boris Johnson as the Fred MacMurray character and Michael Gove, neither for or against the captain, or for or against anything else, in the Van Johnson role.
My bet is on an election late this year or early next, depending on which minister next falls into a hole, and how much noise is made.
The voters can agree on one thing: it will not be an attractive choice.