Good evening. What’s the conversation you have least looked forward to? A job interview? An oral exam? Telling your spouse you’ve cheated on them? High on Theresa May’s already well-stocked list may be today’s confrontation with the 1922 committee, which represents Conservative backbenchers. As I write she is explaining to them just what went wrong last Thursday. “It will be,” writes former committee chairman Michael Spicer, “a frighteningly frosty reception”.
The shockwaves from that disastrous election are still in playing out. Westminster today had a faintly chaotic air as the Queen’s Speech appeared to be pushed back while the Conservatives thrash out a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party to prop up a minority government. A spokesperson blamed the fact that the speech had to be written on “goatskin” paper with ink which takes days to dry, but not everyone found this convincing. Great swathes of the Conservative manifesto – grammar schools, winter fuel payments and the controversial social care plan – are in doubt, and David Davis admitted this morning it would need to be “pruned”. The expectation is of an extremely narrow speech focused on Brexit and guarding against terrorism.
Meanwhile, in effort to stave off a new leadership election, the Prime Minister has appointed her former political enemy Michael Gove, whom she sacked last July, to Defra (Andrea Leadsom will lead the commons). But while David Davis insists that we will still leave the single market, the Evening Standard reports that Cabinet ministers who want a soft Brexit have reached out to Labour MPs, with one senior minister saying Brexit is “is no longer a question just for government.” The Standard’s source splits the Cabinet into “sensibles” (Philip Hammond, Ruth Davidson, and new first secretary of state Damian Green) and no-deal “creationists” (Liam Fox, Priti Patel and Chris Grayling). I wonder if that story had anything to do with the Standard’s new editor?
Mr Osborne obviously has his game to play, but there’s something to this. Mrs Davidson, who is enjoying a great deal of influence giving her successful Scottish campaign, visited Downing Street today and reportedly told the PM she wants an “open Brexit” which retains “the largest amount of access” to the single market. George Freeman, chairman of the Conservative Policy Forum, wants to “drop hard Brexit”. Nicola Sturgeon wants a “cross-party” approach, and anonymous Conservative MPs have floated the same notion, suggesting that it would demonstrate to the EU that Britain is united. During the Article 50 debates this spring our allegedly Remain-heavy Parliament was the dog that didn’t bark; now that Mrs May is weaker, it may begin to assert itself.
Despite all this, I think that Mrs May herself is in little danger – at least for now. There seems to little appetite in the 1922 committee to get rid of her, at least for now. Indeed, early reports are that Mrs May has been greeted by traditional, if limited, table-banging rather than hostile silence. Tory MPs are as united in their desire to avoid a leadership election – let alone a general one – as in their rage at the PM (the Telegraph this weekend ran supportive pieces by Jacob Rees-Mogg and Iain Duncan Smith). They want contrition, focus, no more all-powerful advisers, and a return to real cabinet government, but not, yet, her head. So don’t expect a bloodbath tonight. Instead expect MPs to lay down the law: the Prime Minister is their prisoner now, and her days of imperial command are over.
Source: for MORE