Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.
Another astonishing week in Brexitland. But I suspect we’ve seen nothing compared to what is to come over the next seven days.
Sadly, we have a political leadership which is wholly unfit to be described that way. We have a Prime Minister who deludes herself that she is showing leadership when in fact she is doing the opposite.
She chairs a Cabinet, but refuses to give it any idea of what she believes, or where she wants to take the country. And we have a Cabinet that is so devoid of bollocks that it allows her to do what she likes without fear of consequence. And she lets them do it. It’s a Zombie Cabinet, led by a Zombie Prime Minister.
Her speech in Number Ten on Wednesday evening was one of the most embarrassing of her premiership, and there have been a fair few to rival it for that particular accolade. It achieved the exact opposite of what she presumably wanted. At times, she even channelled Donald Trump, which was never going to end well.
By trying to pitch the people against Parliament, she did something very dangerous – something I cannot remember any other prime minister doing. The fact that she had already done it that day in Prime Minister’s Questions, and then repeated it seven hours later, made it even worse.
She also achieved something else unique. She alienated many of the MPs she needs to win over to get her third “meaningful vote” through Parliament next week. These include Labour MPs and members of the ERG. It takes a lot to bind those two groups together, but Theresa May achieved it.
I do not understand how that speech ever came to be made. Did none of her advisers raise a hand, and point out the dangers of taking the approach she did?
But in the end, the buck stops with the Prime Minister – she is after all responsible for what comes out of her mouth – but speeches like that go through multiple drafts, and are run past a whole raft of people. Yet no one seemed alert to the downsides and dangers of what she was about to say. Quite incredible.
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I’ve copped quite lot of criticism for saying that I think May’s leadership has run its course, but I’ve got broad shoulders and people are free to say what they like. Margaret Thatcher inspired me to join the Conservative Party when I was 16. I devoted a large part of my life to promoting the Conservative cause in one form or another. It was my dream to be a Conservative MP, and although I never achieved that aim, I still continued to be an activist for the party until I joined LBC, when it became inappropriate to continue with party political activities.
I believed May was the right choice to succeed David Cameron, to take us to Brexit and conduct negotiations with the EU. I was wrong on both counts. As I said on Any Questions last Friday, this is the most calamitous British government since Lord North lost America. Hyperbole maybe – but not much of an exaggeration, surely.
Brexit means Brexit, and we’re going to make a success of it, she said. Ad nauseum. We will leave on March 29th, she said. Ad nauseum. We’ll be leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union, she said. Ad nauseum.
Well, Theresa May’s form of Brexit does not mean Brexit. At the time of writing, we won’t be leaving on March 29th. If her deal goes through we won’t be fully leaving the Single Market or the Customs Union. It’s all going terribly well, isn’t it?
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Up until now, I have always thought that were there to be a general election, the Conservatives would win a majority. No longer.
The prospect of a Corbyn government is nearer now than at any time during the last three and a half years. It won’t be that he gets many more votes than he did last time. It will be because Conservative voters stay at home and sit on their hands.
It will be interesting to see what happens in the local elections. Labour’s polling apparently shows that they are not going to do well because people now see them now as the party that backs Remain, and Labour Brexiteers are deserting. We’ll see.
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Back to the Cabinet. Last week, I wrote in my diary about its supine nature. They’ve been at it again.
On Tuesday, the Cabinet met to discuss what to do about extending Article 50. The Prime Minister asked each of her ministers to give their views on whether we should request a short or a long extension. I’m told that once they have all finished, she said: “Thanks for your comments,” and moved the discussion on to something else.
Not a single one of them apparently raised a hand, and said: “Excuse me, Prime Minister, we’ve given our view, what’s yours?” It was then briefed out that she would be writing to Donald Tusk asking for both a short extension which could be turned into a long one if necessary. The next morning, her entire cabinet was taken by surprise when it emerged she was only asking for a short extension.
This is not Cabinet Government in any meaningful sense. But, given the Prime Minister’s weak political position, it is truly astonishing that the Cabinet continues to allow her to get away with it. Andrea Leadsom seems to be the only one of them with any lead in her pencil at the moment (don’t let that image pollute your mind). Perhaps she will be the one with the big fat hairy balls to tell the Prime Minister, “Enough, and no more”.