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Chris Moncrieff on bumps, bruises and calamities

By Chris Moncrieff | In-depth | Published:

n Theresa May, as she heads into the New Year, will be reflecting, possibly a little ruefully, on the past year of bumps and bruises rather than the months of plain sailing she had hoped for.

Rueful reflection

And, as if events of the past year were not already dire enough for the Prime Minister, the shock, enforced resignation of Damian Green merely adds to her woes and presents her with an unwanted Cabinet reshuffle.

Green, whose sacking is related to alleged pornography on his parliamentary computer, is the third Cabinet Minister to be forced out within a few weeks, a 'record' no Prime Minister can relish. And it does nothing for her boast of 'a strong and stable Government' and can be an unwelcome diversion from the Brexit negotiations.

May's (as it turned out) catastrophic decision to hold a snap general election, set the difficult scene for the uncomfortable months that lay ahead. All of which could have been avoided, the pundits said, with the benefit of hindsight.

The Cabinet approved of her decision, believing it would skewer the Labour Party and its leader Jeremy Corbyn. How wrong they were.

However, there were a few seasoned Tories, Lord Cormack for one, who told her at the time of her announcement she was wrong and that no one should call an unnecessary general election. But it was too late, the campaign (such as it was) was already up and running.

They were wrong, too, about the effect it would have on Labour. Corbyn mounted an impressive campaign, exploiting the youth vote, and several times causing the Tories to tremble in their boots.

However, after shedding a few tears when she heard the exit poll findings, May buckled down, secured the help of the Ulster Democratic Unionists and battled on bravely with Brexit.

But the election result had weakened her negotiating strength in Brussels and the rebellion of 11 Tories earlier this month made the position worse. However, she has a lot of fight in her – and although her Brexit team (David Davis and Liam Fox) is not as formidable as it might be, I think she will battle through to get a good deal for the UK.

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n Another general election within the next 12 months? That appears to be the expectation of Jeremy Corbyn, who said with supreme confidence: "I will probably win," adding that he was ready to be Prime Minister.

What a turnaround. The Tories danced with glee when left-winger Corbyn was elected to the Labour leadership, believing (as many traditional Labour supporters did) that he would bring the party to its knees.

Amazingly, he conducted a hugely impressive campaign, exploiting the youth vote as no one had ever done before, while acquiring almost pop star adulation along the way.

The Tories looked on, fearful and incredulous, as their own shambolic campaign staggered from one disaster to the next.

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I imagine that never again will the Tories hire expensive Australian strategists like Lynton Crosby, to mastermind proceedings. Their campaign was over-dominated by the Prime Minister, with hardly anyone else getting a look-in. Even reporters on occasion were kept away from the action. Transparency? It was as if the word did not exist. What a mess.

n If ever a Commons Speaker liked the sound of his own voice, it is the present incumbent, John Bercow. Quite often he has spoilt the flow of debate at Prime Minister's Questions by jumping up to demand the raucous back-benchers keep quiet. "The public hate it," he says. I believe he is wrong. Anyway, what does he expect in a forum where roughly one half of its members hate the other half?

The other day he attacked veteran Tory Nigel Evans for asking an allegedly out-of-order question. Adding, cruelly, that Evans was 'hopeless' and should spend the Christmas break learning how to ask a Parliamentary question.

That was entirely unnecessary, demeaning and patronising -– and I suspect Evans was raging, as he was entitled to be. Why couldn't Bercow say the question was out of order and leave it at that?

He has also broken the rule of total impartiality, particularly in his comments about President Trump.

The only time, I think, the diminutive Bercow made people laugh was when he said he was not the shortest Speaker in history - there were three others, all of whom had had their heads chopped off.

n I do hope the Marina Theatre in Lowestoft gets its money's-worth out of former Tory Minister, Ann Widdecombe, who is topping the bill in their pantomime, Aladdin, this year. Apparently they discovered, to their consternation at rehearsals, that Widdecombe can neither sing nor dance. Anybody who watched her on Strictly Come Dancing would have been able to point that out sooner.

A member of the Aladdin cast said: "Whatever she learnt on Strictly, she has clearly forgotten." So they've written her out of several scenes.

Presumably they'll be hoping her strident tones will make up for her inadequacies elsewhere.

Let us hope so.

Chris Moncrieff

By Chris Moncrieff

Journalist and former political editor of the Press Association

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