My warmest thanks for a most charming dinner yesterday evening. Can I say how much I enjoyed what I presume was your little joke – the “pea-flavoured guacamole-type souffle”, as Thea called it? Though I must confess that I enjoyed watching it collapse even more, despite James’s and Sue’s sterling efforts to get it to re-rise. Tip for the future: getting hold of Rupert on the mobile for emergency advice doesn’t solve all problems, especially when he hasn’t got his copy of Hemsley Hemsley (is it?) to hand. Moral for the future there!
But now to more serious matters – namely, your leadership prospects. As you know, they are being widely written off for three main reasons.
First, the series of recent little local difficulties running from tax credits through Sunday Trading to IDS’s resignation – had him round for supper yet, by the way? – to pensions and academies.
Second, your role in the EU referendum campaign – which, if I may say so, I couldn’t do better myself. (Come to think of it, I am doing it myself: your efforts reflect in every respect the fruits of our co-operation.)
And, third, the grey economic clouds which threaten heavy rain. It’s just as well that you fixed that roof while the sun is shining!
I believe that at least two of these reasons are mere trifles – easily dispensed with. Let me explain why.
- As you know, members of Parliament have the attention span of sparrows. The only creatures known to man with less are the lowest ones in God’s creation – political journalists. Shares on the Westminster Village exchanges rise and fall. What goes up invariably comes down, and vice-versa. After the Budget, your stock was low. After a crushing EU referendum win, it will rise. You will look like a winner. Better still, you will actually be one. Boris and Gove, by contrast, will look like losers. And you will continue to hold the levers of power and the control of patronage.
- So carry on straining for that winning line! Rope in Obama, Legarde, Carney – anyone you can find. (Except Merkel: that would not, on balance, be helpful.) Flatter the susceptible. Bully the weak – by which I mean those of your backbench colleagues who are desperate for a foot on the ladder (even if it happens to be a PPSship for a junior Minister at the Department of Transport) or for the next move up it. Pledge more money for marginal seats – and may I say that you have already surpassed Gordon in that regard? Promise quango appointments. Hint at peerages. Rope in civil servants. Above all, do not feel over-constrained by purdah. To hell with the cost! Throw the dice! Fortune favours the brave! And at all times ensure that any projections of Britain’s fate post-Brexit fall a bit on the gloomy side. From where I sit, your efforts on that front look promising.
- You know what follows after – let us pray – a thumping Remain win on June 23rd. We must all respect the result…put the past behind us…pull the party together…a time for healing…unite against Labour…common enemy…danger to your security – you know the drill. No revenge reshuffle. Quite so! Don’t fire Patel, Mordaunt, Leadsom. Keep them where they are. You can always sack them later. Actually, on reflection, you may want to demote a few of the more isolated Leavers, and promote a few of the more biddable ones. Weigh down Gove with new garlands of responsibility – Cabinet committee chairmanships and the like. Hug him close and keep him busy. As for Boris, the maxim is simple: make him the lowest offer you can get away with. But I trust your growing expertise in these matters.
- What you will then need is time – not too much, not too little. Enough to let Gove run out of steam, Boris blow up, and May fade away. (She’d be in her mid-60s by the time of the next election, wouldn’t she? Just saying.) But not so much as to let any young Turk come through to challenge your position. Push down or buy off any of those who try – or, if these gambits fail, attempt the last resort: urge them to remember their duty to the Party and the country. Then for the big push! I can hear your pitch now: “Stick with the team who’ve delivered two election victories. Stick with winning. Stop Labour. Stick with me.”
Not bad, is it? Oh, and I’ve just thought of a line for anyone who opposes you: “This is no time for a novice.” I rather like that!
So there you have it. For anyone who mentions the so-called Omnishambles Budget, remind them of how your inheritance tax pledge staved of an election in 2007. If anyone else raises some trouble you once got into about a yacht – I cannot now recall the details myself – tell them how you produced a recovery when your enemies said you’d fail. If anyone still points back to all those recent troubles, point back further to when your Party was a party of losers, and how you and David turned it into a winner.
I write “your Party”, of course, perhaps as a term of convenience. As you know, I am not and have never been a Tory, despite assertions to the contrary. I’m New Labour till I die. But the future of our Party does not bode well, and you are re-shaping yours. From New Labour to the New Conservatives! I could, I think, imagine that. So perhaps could a few of my friends who still sit in the Commons. But this is all for further reflection and discussion. There’s a phrase for our partnership, isn’t there? Ever-closer union!