May showing resilience amid the chaos and fury

The Prime Minister has stirred up a seething cauldron of fury over her plans for Brexit, with the Tory Party ragged and split open in a way that has never been seen before.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 20th November 2018, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 20th November 2018, 7:46 am

Each day produces more problems for her Tory Brexiteer would-be rebels. The news that Brussels wants to extend the transition period by two years has made them almost apoplectic with rage.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister appears to be running an almost ‘one-man band’, last-minute operation in Brussels. Is her new Brexit Secretary, Stephen Barclay, no more than a mere cipher, being left out in the cold?

But May, despite the unremitting bombardment of brickbats being hurled her way, refuses, of her own volition, to shift from Downing Street or to drop or even amend her heavily-criticised Chequers proposals.

Prime Minister Theresa May speaking at the CBI annual conference at InterContinental Hotel in London on Monday

You have to hand it to her. She has stood up remarkably well to this unprecedented barrage with which she is confronted every day. There’s no let up.

But of course, she has no control over the rebels who may be able to produce enough numbers to force a vote of confidence on her leadership – perhaps even this week, who knows?

Such a move would, of course, delight Brussels, who see the UK’s already shambolic negotiations collapse into even more chaos.

Loyalty and discretion were once the hallmarks of the Conservative Party. That is no longer the case. Meanwhile, Labour remain at sixes-and-sevens, with Jeremy Corbyn not pointing his party in any particular direction. In short, the whole shebang is a woeful mess.

Chris Moncrieff

So, as the Tory whips metaphorically (we hope) twist arms and issue threats to would-be rebels, the British political system is gradually but discernibly being reduced to rubble. Whoever suspected that that referendum would lead to such a dire situation?

• Demands are afoot for a comprehensive cull of the House of Lords. And I should think so, too.

Its membership has been allowed to swell almost uncontrollably and now, with some 800 members, it is far larger than the House of Commons.

Like the knees of many of their venerable Lordships, the House is beginning to creak. Some of its newer members seem to believe that the main object of the place is to inflict defeats on the elected chamber. That is, of course, nonsense. The elected Commons must be allowed to get its legislation through. The Lords is simply a revising and improvements body.

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee want to see the membership slashed by 200 and then capped at 600, which is a pretty generous offer.

At the moment, the Lords is like Oxford Circus underground station in London at the height of the rush-hour: On top of that many of them make no contribution to the place, and even if they wanted to, there are not enough hours in the day for this to happen.

I hope someone is listening, but I doubt it. Every time anyone tries to reform the Upper Chamber it seems to end in calamity and chaos.

But to put a few hundred of them out to grass should not be beyond the wit of those who want to see the Lords a manageable and useful institution.

• David Miliband, who was famously beaten by his brother Ed for the Labour Party leadership, is, I understand, being seriously considered as the ideal person to head up a proposed new Centrist Party, which many people would like to see established in this country.

But you would need to be someone with superhuman persuasive powers to lure him back to these shores. For Miliband is in New York running the International Rescue Committee, a US charity, at an eye-watering salary of £680,000. You do not give up that kind of money in a hurry. And anyway, it defeats me how on earth a salary of those gargantuan proportions for one individual can be equated with a charity.

But that aside, the idea of a new Centrist Party is easy to talk about, but a lot less easy to achieve. Remember the SNP of the early-1980s, with its famous Gang of Four leadership? It started with a great fanfare, but within months was flat on its back, and soon crawling into the arms of the old Liberal Party which itself, as the Lib Dems, is a fading shadow of its former glory.

If it ever a new party did see the light of day, I would not risk a penny of my life savings on its longevity. Nor, I am sure, would Miliband himself risk even a small fraction of his.

• Theresa May called in aid her cricketing hero Geoffrey Boycott when she was asked how she was coping with all the brickbats that were being hurled at her over Brexit.

She replied to the effect that Boycott always stuck to his guns and remained at the crease, and the required runs always eventually came. But no mention was made of the fact that Boycott was not always regarded as a good team man by his fellow players.

Once in the second test match against New Zealand at Christchurch in 1978, England desperately required quick runs. But Boycott was at the crease, batting in his impeccable but infuriatingly funereal way, much to the frustration of his colleagues.

The Prime Minister may have been right to say that Boycott would stick to the crease until Kingdom Come. But she did not appreciate that when Boycott got the required runs it was often not until Kingdom Gone.