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Nigel Hastilow – Soldiering on through this land of confusion

By Nigel Hastilow | In-depth | Published:

Theresa May marked the first anniversary of her time as Prime Minister in characteristic fashion – by scoring yet another own goal.

She asked Jeremy Corbyn – the devil incarnate to many Tories – to work with her to develop policies on social care and workers’ rights.

What planet is she on? Only a few weeks ago, she was warning that Jezza was a terrorist-sympathising left-wing extremist who would destroy the economy given half a chance.

Now, apparently, she thinks he’s just the chap to help her introduce a new version of the ‘dementia tax’ and destroy entrepreneurs by cracking down on the so-called gig economy.

Naturally, Mrs May’s depleted and increasingly disloyal troops are dismayed, to say the least, at the way she seems to be holding out an olive branch to the man who thinks he will be Prime Minister within six months.

The way she’s going, there’s a good chance Mr Corbyn’s prediction will come true.

It’s such a terrible contrast to how it seemed 12 months ago when Mrs May was hailed as the only grown-up left.

After Britain voted to leave the EU and David Cameron ran away, most of his Ministers were busily back-stabbing each other.

Meanwhile sensible, cool, calculating Theresa stood aside, waited for all her challengers to fall by the wayside and walked into Downing Street unopposed.

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Most people were delighted the country was in apparently safe hands. Mrs May seemed like a strong and stable leader. She used her first months in power to stamp her authority on the Government, set out plans for a tough Brexit and discard her political enemies.

For months, her popularity ratings were through the roof while Labour under Jeremy Corbyn was convulsed in backbiting and in-fighting.

It was all going so well she took the decision to call an early General Election – despite promising several times she would do no such thing.

That reverse came hard on the heels of her U-turn on Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Budget bid to increase the National Insurance tax on the self-employed.

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And from the moment the election was called, it all started to unravel. Nobody challenged the economic madness of Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto because Mr Hammond was being lined up for the sack. For the same reason, the Tories failed to fight the election on the traditional issue of the economy. Instead they waged war on their own best supporters – older voters – with a triple tax whammy.

The Tory campaign was based entirely around the ‘strong and stable’ Government Mrs May promised. Yet she U-turned on the dementia tax, ducked direct TV confrontations with her opponents and hid from the voters at carefully-orchestrated invitation-only photo opportunities in unwinnable Labour seats.

The party she led was guilty of neglect, complacency and arrogance and got what it deserved. She may have won the most votes and seats but, compared with her expectations, she lost. The election was a personal disaster and things have not improved.

She failed to cope with authority and decisiveness over the Grenfell Tower disaster while the Brexit fiasco seems to become more and more unnecessarily complex and chaotic with every day that passes.

Today, as George Osborne so delicately puts it, she is a dead woman walking. Mrs May is bereft of ideas and authority. It is impossible to see how she can negotiate her way through the Brexit battles ahead. Especially as that was why she wanted a big majority in the first place.

Now she’s thrown away the modest majority left to her by David Cameron, it is implausible she will cling on to what we might charitably call power for the duration of the two-year Brexit timetable.

The forces ranged against her – from the EU, the moderate Labour Party, big business, whiney universities, dependent charities, the House of Lords, not to mention her own angry backbench remainders – will do everything they can to thwart her. There’s also a risk Mrs May’s Commons support will dwindle. She has already lost one MP, Anne Marie Morris, who has had the whip withdrawn for using the N-word. That is just the start.

Yet the last thing the country needs is the upheaval of a Conservative leadership contest and the eventual appointment of a new Prime Minister.

None of the possible candidates – 68-year-old Brexiteer David Davies, controversial Boris Johnson, dull Philip Hammond, traitorous Michael Gove or Amber Rudd, who scraped back into the Commons with a majority of just 346 – commands widespread support even in their own party.

If Mrs May were to go, the pressure for another General Election would be almost irresistible. Calls for her to quit, from the likes of Sutton Coldfield Tory Andrew Mitchell, suggest the Conservatives are hell-bent on political suicide.

It’s all Mrs May’s fault, of course. The task ahead of her looks like mission impossible. For her, the only consolation is that the country needs her to soldier on. It shows what a land of confusion we have now become.

Nigel Hastilow

By Nigel Hastilow

Express & Star columnist

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