Dinah Glover is Chairman of London East Area Conservatives and of Bethnal Green and Bow Conservative Association. She is also the organiser of the successful petition calling for an emergency general meeting of the National Convention.
The 1922 Executive Committee recently decided by a narrow margin to reject changing the leadership rules, thus paving the way to an immediate leadership challenge. But it did send a clear message to Theresa May that she needs to set a timetable for her departure. This in my opinion, and that of the 70 or so Association Chairmen who have signed our petition calling for an emergency meeting of the National Convention, should be no longer than it takes to organise a leadership election. This process should begin now – in the light of this week’s dire local elections results for the Party.
It is momentous that so many Association Chairmen feel so strongly as to organise a petition calling on May to resign, and that the 1922 Executive has made the declaration that it has. I’m afraid that she should take no comfort that she cannot be ousted by any constitutional method till December. These are not votes of confidence in her, and to ignore such feeling in the Party is dangerous.
I have been a member of the Conservative Party since I was 18, and have been an office holder and an activist for the majority of that time. I firmly believe that the values of the Conservative Party serve this country far better than those of other parties. We are a broad church, and the Party has led this country, in the main, in a direction that we should be proud of.
However what is different today is that we have a Prime Minister who undoubtedly means well, works hard – but is leading our country to disaster with years of instability ahead of us, if we follow her Brexit route.
I and others started the petition asking her to resign as Party leader because we believe her EU negotiating strategy is existentially damaging to this Country. Those who have signed it believe that she is destroying the Party, too. In taking this action, we believe that we are starting on the road to save both – otherwise, believe me, we would not do it.
How has it come to this? We are a Party that promised in 2015 to hold a referendum on EU membership – the result of which would be implemented. We were told by David Cameron that it was a once in a lifetime vote; that the verdict would be final, no going back. The British people took him at his word. Democracy in action. If we allow this democratic light that re-engaged voters so dramatically to be snuffed out, either by not delivering Brexit or what people recognise as Brexit, we will not be forgiven and rightly so.
How has it come to this? Some blame the Commons numbers – but these are due to a terrible election campaign in 2017, and that is the responsibility of the Prime Minister, I’m afraid. It is the same reason we are in the mess we’re in with the Brexit negotiations. She is proven to be unsuited to be Prime Minister at this challenging time, when a truly exceptional leader is needed. She appears to lack the basic requirements, as follows.
Political intuition and empathy
The 2017 manifesto was a lesson in how to lose your core vote in one easy step. To be over 20 per cent ahead in the polls when the election was called, and seven weeks later to have lost a majority of 12, tells you that this leadership cannot win hearts and minds. Yet again, May has achieved this by designing a Withdrawal Agreement that the party keeping you in power, namely the DUP, cannot agree to. She should have Arlene Foster on speed dial. To understand the failure, look how David Cameron managed Nick Clegg.
The ability to manage complex situations and characters
May used such a small team to write the manifesto that Secretaries of State who would have had to implement the policies were not involved. Then consider Chequers – bounced on a Cabinet which had endured months of meetings with Brexit scarcely appearing on the agenda. The Commons passed the Brady amendment to pave the way to the Malthouse Compromise that both Remainers and Brexiteers within the Party drew up. Her Party thus presented her with a solution, but she has failed to capitalise on it. Had she have done so, the Conservative Party would have owned the initiative and united behind her. Instead, she chose to trust the EU negotiators who do not derive their power from us – in fact, the exact opposite.
Understanding the rules of negotiation
Most leadership roles are mainly about negotiation – understanding what motivates people, where power derives from, what is ultimately the breakpoint. May has over the last 18 months refused to listen to the very people who wanted Brexit and would have walked to the ends of the earth with her to deliver it. In other words, she lost the trust of her main power base.
She has misunderstood the relationship with the EU negotiators and the power play in Brussels. She has failed to grasp that much of the approach by the EU is bravado, and so believed every word they have told her. The final demonstration that her negotiations were doomed to failure is the moment that many Party members realised she was never going to allow us to leave with No Deal. Something the EU realised long before us, and ultimately explains why we are where we are.
Utilise all the talents to their full potential
May operates with a small cabal of advisors that are not necessarily the best suited to their roles. Why not open up the Brexit negotiations to businesses and experts?. Why are Martin Howe and Shanker Singham not on her team? She has consistently closed the door to all three of her DExEU Secretaries of State – plus Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary Secretary and the voice of Vote Leave for much of the time. These negotiations are the responsibility of Mrs May: she owns them. We know she mistrusts other politicians. If she can’t bring people with her, she will fail at every turn.
It is for all these reasons that Mrs May did not deliver Brexit as she promised on March 29th, has had to go on her knees to beg for extensions and the latest “flextension”, only getting these by promising to bring Jeremy Corbyn into Number 10 – having said that he should be nowhere near the levers of power.
The final humiliation is now being delivered upon us in the form of the European elections – elections to an institution we voted to leave three years ago. These negotiations have become a national humiliation and a joke. It is May that has allowed this to happen. We need a new leader who may not be able to change the Commons numbers overnight, but can bring a vision, win hearts and minds, believes in what Global Brexit Britain has to offer, and can develop a plan that Brexiteers can coalesce around – which they are desperate to do. Others will then have the confidence to follow. It is in this way that we will find a successful route out of the EU.