Yesterday Kathy Gyngell rallied behind Jacob Rees-Mogg. Kathy correctly contrasted Mogg’s principled position – declaring no confidence in the prime minister and urging that she be replaced by someone able and willing to save Brexit – with the cowardice of the many milksops who profess to oppose Theresa May’s EU sell-out but have lacked the courage and honour to resist.
Ridiculed over the past week as the leader of a delusory rebellion, Jacob has absorbed the jibes, such as being likened to Captain Mainwaring of Dad’s Army, and responded to such political knockabout with his customary poise and good humour (‘patience is a virtue, virtue is a grace’). Of far greater concern to Mogg will be that the inaction of so many supposed Brexiteers, whose indolence deservedly earned the wrath of Nadine Dorries, has strengthened Theresa May. This limpet will cling to office and JRM is right to warn that failing to act increases the likelihood of her leading the Tories to annihilation at the next general election.
And yet only a week ago, we dared to hope otherwise. It was on Thursday November 15 that Rees-Mogg announced that he had sent a letter of no confidence to the chairman of the 1922 Committee. On Question Time that evening, in answer to ‘How long can Theresa May last?’ the Telegraph’s Tim Stanley answered: ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if she was gone by this time tomorrow.’
— BBC Question Time (@bbcquestiontime) November 15, 2018
Stanley is a measured commentator, not prone to hyperbolic prediction. While no one expected there to be a removal van in Downing Street the following day, when Tim spoke it did seem entirely plausible that within 24 hours May’s position could have become untenable.
With Raab and McVey having already quit, at that point the key was how Michael Gove, having rejected the chance to be the new Brexit bellboy, would react to being refused the opportunity to renegotiate May’s terms of surrender. Had all, or even some, of Gove, Mordaunt, Leadsom, Fox and Grayling – all supposedly committed Leavers – also resigned, it would surely have given momentum to a full-scale rebellion and a deluge of letters to Graham Brady.
It was an opportunity for Gove to act from principle and at least partially redeem his tarnished reputation; instead, he justified staying put with verbiage such as ‘continuing to work with all colleagues in government and in parliament to get the best future for Britain’. And when the pathetic Liam Fox declared ‘a deal is better than no deal’, thereby inverting May’s earlier mantra, it felt like these so-called Brexiteers were taking the mickey.
Instead of her being cast out, a week of only sporadic protest against her has left Mrs May more snug. Inexplicably, she is now receiving sympathy as a wronged woman, an example being Conservative MP Nick Boles tweeting his distaste of her treatment.
Do my colleagues not understand how normal people react when they see a group of middle aged men, led by two plummy-toned Old Etonians, trying to bully a conscientious and determined woman out of her job?
— Nick Boles MP (@NickBoles) November 19, 2018
This ad hominem against former public schoolboys Johnson and Rees-Mogg – from the son of Sir Jack Boles and an alumnus of Winchester College, Magdalen Oxford and Harvard! – is risible: as Laura Perrins coined her, ‘Theresa the Terminator’ is responsible for a heap of political corpses; she is no victim – quite the reverse.
Yet it is now reported that this treacherous and deceitful prime minister, who blindsided two Brexit Secretaries and twice in recent months has bounced most of the Cabinet into accepting withdrawal plans that were sprung upon them, is garnering empathetic female support.
— Guido Fawkes (@GuidoFawkes) November 21, 2018
Perhaps typical is the latest Daily Express column by Virginia Blackburn. Usually level-headed and normally only small-p political, this week Blackburn opined: ‘Bumbling Boris and Victorian Rees-Mogg . . . both hint at a sense of entitlement and strangely enough it comes out when they are having a pop at the resolutely middle-class, middle Britain, Theresa May.’
This codswallop follows Mogg’s lament that ‘what Theresa May says and does no longer match’. This is a statement of fact; however, not only has truth-telling become a revolutionary act, doing so about a woman is now being judged as condescendingly sexist.
Theresa May’s recent behaviour has, though, changed the mind of another Express columnist: ‘You would think from the huge Cheshire cat grin on her face in the Sunday papers that she had returned triumphant instead of having connived at a national humiliation . . . a week ago I was arguing for her to stay rather than add to the uncertainty during the most important international negotiations for 50 years but I now think she is too dangerous.’
Not the opinion of a privileged man, but the words of a woman, Ann Widdecombe. Unlike her Express colleague, Ann prioritises truthfulness over spurious sisterly solidarity.