There is no set way for a party leader to behave on stepping down. Some prefer to hold their tongue in retirement and speak up on select occasions. This has been Sir John Major’s approach, after he declared on leaving Downing Street: “When the curtain falls, it is time to get off the stage—and that is what I propose to do”. His intervention on Brexit last night has not escaped criticism though, as Boris Johnson used his address to the British Chambers of Commerce this afternoon to mock the “ prognostications of gloom“. The Foreign Secretary’s rebuke was much more diplomatic than the response given by the likes of Iain Duncan Smith, which led James Kirkup to lament their tendency to resort to “personal vitriol” and “talk of plots”.
Sir John Major prefers as a former party leader to hold fire, so as to maximize his impact when he goes in all-guns blazing. Nigel Farage’s strategy could not be more different, as he has kept up a sustained barrage since stepping down. His latest target is one of his favourites – Douglas Carswell. The Ukip MP has earned his ire now after emails leaked to the Telegraph suggested he was not pushing wholeheartedly for Mr Farage to receive a knighthood. The messages were proof, Mr Farage declared, that he was “consumed with jealousy and a desire to hurt me”.
The former Ukip leader wants his successor, Paul Nuttall, to punish Mr Carswell by kicking him out of the party. The Clacton MP should be meeting with party chairman Paul Oakden this afternoon, so disciplinary action could be in the offing. But Mr Nuttall knows that if does sack Mr Carswell, as I’ve written online, he would inevitably re-open the splits that he had only just managed to cover. Meanwhile if he doesn’t, Faragistas will take this as proof that he is working with Mr Carswell and his “elitist cabal” ( as one Ukip MEP put it) to desecrate Mr Farage’s legacy.
As Paul Nuttall works out how to appease the Carswellites and the Faragistas, he must be wishing that his predecessor wasn’t quite so eager to stir things up.
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Voters in Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent Central are braving the might of Storm Doris to come out and vote today in two crunch by-elections. As polling day enters its final few hours, I’ve been looking online at how the parties will treat the possible results.
Labour is fighting to cling on two seats in what have been traditional heartlands. It shouldn’t be remarkable if that happens, but the party has lowered expectations about how it may do in the hope of making it seem so. Jeremy Corbyn’s critics will be keeping an eye out on how Labour’s majority holds up in such a scenario to see what damage his leadership may have had.
Losing both would inevitably precipitate a leadership challenge. The Tories may hope Labour clings onto Stoke then, so that Mr Corbyn can be embarrassed, but remain in place as leader. They have their hearts set on taking Copeland off Labour by trying to highlight Mr Corbyn’s anti-nuclear stance to voters there. It will be quite a coup if they manage it, as it will be a be the first time the Government had won a seat off the official opposition since the Tories took Mitcham and Morden in 1982.
Ukip’s fortunes rest on what happens in Stoke. If Paul Nuttall wins, the party will enjoy a new moment of glory as it celebrates its new MP and its first seizure of a Labour seat. If he doesn’t, his allies will be tempted to blame it on Labour’s “smear campaign” over Hillsborough. That won’t persuade everyone, as Nigel Farage told Ukip’s spring conference that winning Stoke was “fundamental” to the party’s future. If Mr Nuttall can’t deliver, some Faragistas will be sharpening their knives.
The results will be not be known until much later, likely between 3 and 4am. We’ll have them, as well as all the analysis, on our website tomorrow. Every party will hope to have something to boast about. If not, their leaders can expect to have pretty gloomy weekends.
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Theresa May is building on her vow outside Downing Street to be a “one nation” Prime Minister today, we report, by bringing together leaders of the United Kingdom’s devolved administrations to talk about Brexit. She will tell Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Welsh counterpart Carwyn Jones and Northern Ireland’s leader Arlene Foster that the way the UK leaves the EU “will not boil down to a hard choice” and that “no final decisions have been taken” about what form it would take. The Prime Minister will also offer an olive branch to them in the form of a new forum chaired by David Davis and a hotline to the Brexit secretary. This comes after the leaders called for their legislatures to get their own votes on the negotiating position the Government intends to take.”I am determined that as we make a success of our exit from the European Union, we in turn further strengthen our own enduring union,” she said ahead of the talks.
Mrs May doesn’t just have to worry about the devolved assemblies this week in her drive for Brexit, as her Government is set tomorrow to decide on how best to expand Britain’s airport capacity after the referendum. Sir Howard Davies, the man chosen by the Government to review this issue, says in today’s Telegraph that the case for expanding Heathrow has “strengthened in recent months” post the vote for Brexit. “The need for a clear strategic direction is more important since the referendum result,” he writes. “The rhetoric about becoming a European Singapore with a “blue water” trading focus seems empty if we cannot connect to the new markets we wish to serve.”
The decision will be made by the airports cabinet committee and announced in the House of Commons. But the Prime Minister has already moved to curb the potential backlash by giving free reign to her ministers to air their views on the announcement once it has been made. This will be a relief for the likes of Boris Johnson, who has previously voted to lie down in front of the bulldozers if Heathrow goes ahead, although the pressure will be higher on Zac Goldsmith, as he has repeatedly vowed to resign his seat in the Commons if Heathrow gets the green light.
Mrs May has time to wrestle with the big questions post-Brexit as Ukip has turned its fire inwards. Suzanne Evans launched her campaign bid yesterday, and has already reopened her feud with Nigel Farage (and his former aide – now aspiring successor – Raheem Kassam). Tim Stanley wonders whether Evans is the right candidate for the May era, writing in today’s paper that the best option looks to be former deputy leader Paul Nuttall. “Ukip must be agile and move to swallow Labour. Either this will lead to its emergence as an authentic voice of working-class dissent or, more benignly, it might compel Labour to reconnect with ordinary people,” he concludes.