Cameron Penny is a financial services lobbyist.
Politics is intensely personal – from the vote of every single constituent to the character and traits of all those who seek office. This in part explains why it can rouse strong emotions amongst those who take part in the process, but it is healthy that our leaders are subject to intense scrutiny. That personal element also creates some hard conversations – one of which the Conservative Party now needs to have with the Prime Minister.
Theresa May is a good person, did a great deal to bring stability to the Home Office during a long tenure and, by challenging the Party to change, helped David Cameron push on with his ambitious modernising project, one which saw us reach out to people in a way we hadn’t before. Cameron knew that our strength comes from taking our principles and enabling more people to adopt them, rather than trying to win or rule by fiat. In her own way, the Prime Minister has shown she can unite people in a common cause. Her transition from quiet Remainer to Brexiteer-in-Chief may have been a vindication of a shrewd strategy, but it also enabled us to come together as a Party despite a bruising referendum campaign.
All of this makes it even stranger that she would seek to win an increased mandate on the basis of fundamental reforms to the funding of long-term social care, and a renewed commitment to overturn the foxhunting ban. Even in government, social care reform would have been a long-drawn out and technocratic exercise which would have caused controversy, but to launch it on the campaign trail?
That it got through to print rightly raises serious questions about control at Number Ten, which have only been partly answered by the resignations of Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy. Indeed, Timothy deserves praise for his honest and heartfelt statement published on this site. Meanwhile, few people outside of rural constituencies stand to gain from revisiting the ban on the use of hunting with dogs.
These were mistakes, but arguably not terminal ones. The greatest error was to rely on the personality of the Prime Minister as the sole reason for voting Conservative. From my own experience in Carshalton & Wallington, it is deeply disappointing that our excellent candidate, Matthew Maxwell Scott, just fell short, no doubt encumbered like so many others by CCHQ diktats to focus on “standing with Theresa May”, rather than being allowed to run as themselves. Candidates should not be cast as plastic people with no personality especially, when the one imposed on them is so lacking in its own.
In these circumstances, and as someone who backed Theresa May for leader, it brings me no pleasure to say that the time has come for the Prime Minister to step down. There is a natural path ahead: announce a resignation by the end of next week, and allow a contest to take place over the summer, with the winner announced at the Party Conference in October.
This would have the advantage of finishing before the German Federal Elections, thus providing additional certainty about the type of Brexit deal that might fly with the EU’s most powerful Member State. For it is clear that the Prime Minister cannot remain. The news that she now seeks a deal or a supply and confidence arrangement with the DUP is desperate stuff. This is a Party that would seek to restrict all forms of abortion. It is a Party that has cynically used the peace process structures to deny equal rights to gay men and women in Northern Ireland. It is a Party and a leader in Arlene Foster whose grasp of figures and ability to lose public money would make Diane Abbott blush. It is also a Party which is far too comfortable being pictured with loyalist paramilitaries and thugs.
We cannot return to Government, having rightly exposed Corbyn and McDonnell’s affiliations with known terrorist organisations, by jumping into bed with the same type of people. A new leader should now seek to govern for as long as possible through bringing mainstream parties into the process around the Brexit negotiations. A sort of grand, if informal, coalition if you will.
So I’m sorry, Theresa – but it is time. The Party and the country deserve more. The candidates and thousands of activists and volunteers who worked tirelessly across the UK deserve more. We went into this election 20 points ahead and with projections of a hundred-plus seat majority, and we end it having lost seats, lost a majority and discovering far too late that young people, excluded from the property market and having their earnings squeezed by ever-higher rents, are just as important a constituency as those enjoying their retirement. Having managed to beach the ship, it is time for a new captain to take the wheel.