“I’m not going to be calling a snap election. I’ve been very clear that I think we need that period of time, that stability to be able to deal with the issues that the country is facing and have that election in 2020.”
The BBC and other commentators have been all over Mrs May’s words of January on the Andrew Marr Show like a rash. This was all a dumbstruck Martha Kearney on the World at One yesterday could find to criticise.
You would be forgiven for believing they weren’t versed in the arts of the profession they spend their own professional careers following.
So what? A week in politics is a short time, they should know. And it’s taken just three short weeks since she triggered Article 50 to come to see that Brexit could prove a very long operation. As Austin Mitchell put it yesterday, escaping from Colditz is beginning to look like a doddle by comparison.
She is a politician and, as Guido Fawkes put it, ‘a player’ after all. But wasn’t that self-evident after the referendum when the Notting Hill set, rocked by Michael Gove refusing to play ball as the joker in the pack any longer, collapsed like a pack of cards in front of her. There is no one cannier than a quiet operator.
There was always a case for her to go to the electorate and establish her own mandate. I said so from the start. Neither her Conservative colleagues nor the country would have thanked her for missing the best chance she might ever get of dispatching the hard Left before it became a real problem.
Why wouldn’t she take full advantage of her glorious opinion polls and unique opportunity to turn a wafer-thin Conservative majority into some towering Commons authority? Conservative ‘Remainers’ can neither vote for Corbyn or Ukip. Her decision demonstrates a certainty and steel that she was still lacking – in my view– at the time of the Tory conference. Well she has demonstrated it now, nine confident months later. She has played her political cards brilliantly, showing a spine of steel to match her metal-tipped shoes.
Since the conference she has grown in stature as PM, leaving the men around her looking like minnows – not least the diminished, inarticulate and immature sounding Boris Johnson, who she set up, figuratively as well as literally, in the Foreign Office.
She has stood her ground in her support for the US President against the BBC’s whipped up anti-Trump hysteria; she has kept her word and triggered Article 50, despite an overweening Supreme Court judgement; she has gone confidently on to set out her stall with a truculent and ungracious EU, putting the destructive Scottish First Minister back in her box at one and the same time. While there are a host of issues in her centre-left domestic policy agenda that send the TCW editors into spasms – one that we will continue to challenge and question – we cannot fault her political leadership.
As if to underline her ‘don’t mess with me – anyone’ message comes her ‘shock and awe’ call for an election and a direct appeal to the electorate to govern as she will. Brilliant for its dramatic timing, it now looks as though she has been building up to it for a time.
If it says one thing to her party, to the EU negotiators, and Nicola Sturgeon alike it is: ‘I won’t be bullied and I am taking no prisoners. I will not need to’. You have to admire it. I do.
For what better way to keep the ‘awkward’ squads on the Left and the Right of her party in line? If the Brexit process ends up softer on immigration than the Right and indeed the electorate might like, then she can fall back on her mandate. If it ends up with GB PLC walking away into a new world of free trade and bilateral deals and uncertainty she will still have a mandate. Whichever, winning the election with a larger majority gives her the ultimate mandate to deliver Brexit her way, whatever that turns out to be.
The devil of the Brexit detail should, of course, be in the manifesto, but I bet it won’t be. ‘It is too soon’ we will be told, again. She has got us by the short hairs, that is for sure. This omission is no more going to make ‘remainer’ Tories vote for Corbyn’s Labour than it will make Ukip’s Labour recruits return to their party of origin. Corbyn is the Labour Party’s gift to Mrs May that keeps on giving.
And whichever of these camps you might be in dear reader, wouldn’t you rather put your money on the vicar’s daughter than the only other alternative – the LibDems led by tiny Tim?
Clever Mrs May, I predict, now has many years to go before either set of malcontents in her divided party plot another night of the long knives to end her leadership. Mrs Thatcher managed 15 years – a post-war record.
She may not be Mrs Thatcher yet, but she has categorically taken command. But as with Mrs Thatcher there will be a price to pay – the one that the BBC exacts. The newly unashamed champion of the Remainers’ cause will pursue their BBC duty, as Nick Robinson sees it, to focus on every problem Brexit might threaten. That they can do while keeping perfect party political balance. How Mrs May squares up to that remains to be seen.
(Image: State Department)