The 2017 election dramatically shortened the shelf-life of Theresa May’s premiership and brought about a more immediate exit from Downing Street for her two key lieutenants.
Nick Timothy, the more policy-focused of the two, has given an extensive interview to this morning’s Daily Telegraph in which he sets out to disentangle his former boss’s vision from the disastrous campaign.
His thesis is simple: the Prime Minister built up her huge personal standings by taking the Conservative Party, and the Government, in a new direction, and reaching out to voters outside the traditional Tory coalition.
This was then squandered by a campaign which not only tried to run on presidential lines with a candidate ill-suited to that approach, but switched too quickly back into the comfort zone of ‘continuity and reassurance’ rather than playing up May’s reforming vision.
As a result policy announcements in that vein, of which the social care fiasco is the most infamous, jarred with the rest of the message and, without support, backfired badly.
Timothy argues the election really demonstrates that the Party needs to more wholeheartedly embrace the Prime Minister’s agenda, rather than retreating back into its comfort zone. That may prove a hard sell after the campaign.
He also skims over the extent to which both he and May failed to build a coalition behind their ideas before the election, saying: “We probably didn’t communicate as well as we could have done, directly with the public and the media, and probably to a certain extent around Whitehall.”
That’s rather under-selling the issue. As was pointed out during the campaign, there aren’t any ‘Mayite’ think-tanks or even journalists who could dry-run things like the social care reforms, nor a group of MPs versed in the arguments who could champion them in the media.
Without that, the new Conservatism couldn’t help but feel a lot like a top-down imposition by a Prime Minister who was already developing, fairly or not, an autocratic reputation. That did it no favours.
The consensus is now that at some point between 2019 and 2022, May will stand down. The shadow-boxing over the succession has already started. If Timothy wants her ideas for the Party to outlive her leadership, he should start building the coalition she didn’t have in June. Better late than never.