On the day of the vote of confidence vote in Theresa May as Conservative leader, this site recommended that Tory MPs take “a chance on change” – and vote her out. Roughly half a year before, we urged our readers not to vote Conservative in that month’s European elections, unless she was gone by the end of the day.
And when she returned to the Commons after the 2019 general election, we compared her decision to stay on with Edward Heath’s – wedging our tongue in our cheek as we added that “he was sometimes described as “the incredible sulk”, a fate she will doubtless avoid”.
So we can’t reasonably be accused of persistent bias in her favour. Which is a way of prefacing what follows.
Former Party leaders can’t win. If they quit Parliament, as David Cameron did, they are accused of running away from problems they helped to create. Or to put it another way, he is a “twat”, to borrow the vivid terms of Danny Dyer: “where is he? He’s in Europe, in Nice, with his trotters up, yeah, where is the geezer? I think he should be held account for [Brexit].”
And if they stay, they are Heath.
Sulk or not, we believe that as a rule former Prime Ministers ought to stick around. The Commons has got younger; its turnover is faster. The chamber needs former senior Ministers who can warn their successors: “we tried that, and it didn’t work”. Or, better: “we tried that, and it didn’t work – but here’s how we might have been able to do so”.
Consider the pandemic. If another comes along soonish, and Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak, Michael Gove and Matt Hancock are out of government, they would be in a postion to do just that. Providing they stay in Parliament.
The bulk of our readers will disagree with May over sticking with the 0.7 per cent for international aid, and agree with her over opening up as soon as possible for international travel. (If it was banned every time the UK finds a dangerous new variant, “we will never be able to travel abroad ever again”, she pointed out this week.)
Some will say that she would have behaved no differently to Johnson were she still in Downing Street. Like all counterfactuals, the claim can’t be proved.
Unlike her commitment to eliminate modern slavery, which can. The number of slaves worldwide is estimated at 40 million. It might be important for other politicians to focus on present rather than past slavery, don’t you think?
May had nothing much left to offer by the end of her premiership. But she has something to give now from the backbenches. Whatever your take, she is unlikely ever to be accused of putting her trotters up on a beach in Nice.