Philip Hammond, under any normal circumstances, would have been fired for going off-piste in Davos. But he knew he wasn’t going to be fired which explains why he said in his speech that there would only be “very modest” changes to relations between the EU and the UK after Brexit.
Boris Johnson’s public intervention on the NHS earlier this week should have got him into hot water, but it didn’t. We understand that some of his cabinet colleagues rebuked him as they were sitting around the cabinet table, but that was it. He was only saying what the rest of us were thinking – additional NHS funding plays well in marginal constituencies. It’s good politics and a few more billions of pounds should have a positive effect on outcomes, even in our dysfunctional healthcare system, desperately in need of reform, but which is never going to be reformed whilst May is in Number 10. It isn’t rocket science, but I am sure that there are many ministers sitting around the cabinet table who think it is.
Two of the most senior Government ministers have openly criticised Government policy because they can, although in all fairness to Boris, publicly calling for more NHS spending is different to attempting to change Government policy in a speech to the World Economic Forum.
Perhaps Hammond has had enough of May. If he has, I can’t blame him. This Government is the most spineless, rudderless Government anyone can remember – and there are a quite a few on the list competing for that title. It sleepwalks from one crisis to another because it lacks that important smack of firm leadership.
Theresa May is not a leader. She lacks vision, ideology – whatever you want to call it. She doesn’t have the je ne sais quoi to be Prime Minister. You may not always know what a leader looks like, but you tend to know when someone lacks the necessary skills required to lead. May rolls over when she should make a stand. She is Sir Humphrey’s dream.
Whilst all of this is going on, across the chamber of the House of Commons sits Jeremy Corbyn who leads a party that has embraced a form of Venezuelan Marxism. He wants a return to unbridled trade union power; a return to the closed shop and flying pickets. He wants to nationalise everything in sight. What can’t be nationalised, will be taxed. Five years of a Corbyn Government will cause untold damage to the UK’s economy with John McDonnell responsible for the nation’s purse strings living next door at Number 11. We face the prospect of Diane Abbott being in charge of law and order. This should send a shiver down the collective spines of all Conservative MPs, but instead they bury their heads in the sand hoping the problem – Theresa May – will somehow resolve itself. It won’t.
I don’t really care who replaces May. I’ve had enough. Just about anyone on the Conservative benches would make a better PM than the present incumbent. I don’t go along with the line that it would be a huge distraction from Brexit negotiations. They’re not going too well at the moment. May isn’t offering strategic direction, and David Davis may smile when questioned, but he isn’t exactly covering himself in glory either.
May rolls over and doesn’t stand up for herself, and, more importantly, the country. She is too willing to give into the EU’s demands and then comes unstuck. She doesn’t believe in Brexit and I don’t think her heart is in it. No, Brexit maybe a convenient excuse not to replace May, but it isn’t a good reason. Indeed, it is one of the strongest reasons for her go now, rather than letting this drag on for months.
Just as their predecessors did in 1940, Conservative MPs have to decide that the Prime Minister is not up to the job. They know that already. They now need to be brave. Those who haven’t already done so need to write their “Dear Sir Graham” letters to the chairman of the 1922 Committee. They know that just about anything would be better than the status quo. They need to stiffen the sinews and summon up the blood. They need to trigger a leadership election and see what happens because they know this farce has to end. And they know in their hearts and in their heads that nothing less will do. Sitting across from them is the Government in waiting. If that doesn’t frighten them, then nothing will.
As Churchill would have said, Action This Day.