The Tory plot thickens – or sickens, according to taste.
If the Sunday newspapers are to be believed, Prime Minister Theresa May faces a revolt by a large faction of the Conservative Party, and indeed within her own government, over the form that Brexit should take. The crime of which she is suspected, along with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, is favouring a ‘soft’ Brexit – one that might get Britain out of Europe but would keep Britain in the European customs union. “Not so fast,” cry some of her ministers, spurred on by right-wing back-benchers, most of them of the most scurrilous and unprincipled kind. “Brexit, as you yourself once famously uttered, means Brexit.”
In other words out, of everything.
The plot, the Sunday Times would have us believe, contemplates the installation of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, with Michael Gove as his deputy (although no such position formally exists) and Jacob Rees-Mogg as Chancellor. Now, there is a government to make the pulse quicken. Not, though, this writer’s; that would be a government to make the stomach churn.
‘Boris’ and ‘plot’ have become synonymous. The tousle-haired and supposedly lovable rogue has been plotting since the Referendum, pausing only to pledge his undying allegiance to May when the Tories appeared to be on course for a bigger parliamentary majority. When the Tory majority disappeared, he was back in the metaphorical basement, piling up the gunpowder barrels. Gove, who, it should be recalled, shamelessly tried to stab Boris in the back when Boris seemed to be the front-runner for the leadership, is down there with him. Rees-Mogg has been reluctantly seconded to the gang because his brand of political nostalgia for Victorian values, which naturally includes denying women a choice in the matter of abortion – and would probably, if he had his way, deny them the vote – because it appeals to hard-core unreconstructed Tories in the shires, where antipathy to all things European thrives.
These three Brexiteers belong in the pages of a gothic historical novel of the kind once written by Jeffery Farnol, or W. Harrison Ainsworth. One can easily imagine Johnson and Rees-Mogg exclaiming ‘Gadzooks!” Not Gove, of course, who for effect probably curses in ancient Greek. All three have ‘A’ for ambition stamped on their foreheads. There is nothing wrong with ambition, of course, but ambition without honour has nothing to recommend it.
Without question, May has turned out to be a weak, and on Europe, vacillating leader. Lacking a parliamentary majority, saddled with the kind of conspirators for which Conservative cabinets seem to have a fond predilection (as Harold Macmillan once observed, all premierships end in failure), and given the national divisions on Brexit, it is hardly surprising that she devotes more of her attention to surviving than governing. May’s administration, it is true, verges on the shambolic. But given the current fractious mood of the country, and her party, Britain is fast approaching the status of ungovernable: like Greece or Italy, but without any of the compensations of nice weather.
May will have to go sooner or later, but it should be a time either of her choosing or as a result of a reasoned debate involving all Conservative Members of Parliament. Those would be rational solutions, but the Tory party rarely falls back on reason. It prefers drama, the bloodier the better.
Look at how it got rid of Margaret Thatcher. It even plotted against her successor, John Major, who was sufficiently shocked to refer to some of his cabinet colleagues as ‘the bastards’. That is to overlook the fates of his predecessors, Eden, Macmillan, Home and Heath.
If I were the occupant of 10 Downing Street I would call the plotters’ bluff and call for a party vote. She will not do so because she might well lose it, but surely sudden death would be better than the slow torture she is now enduring. “I am not a quitter,” she boldly declares. So did Thatcher. Even if May were to lose, she would at least have the satisfaction of thwarting those busy little devils in the basement, since they would immediately disband the gang and turn on each other.
When Tory knives are being sharpened they are nearly always used. Mrs. May might be well advised to find a more peaceful alternative to waiting for a blood-drenched assassination in the rotunda.