The cabinet is in a state of unprecedented disarray

Chris Moncrieff
Chris Moncrieff

Can Theresa May and her wobbly, minority government survive the entire length of a full Parliament, with its cabinet members squabbling like schoolchildren in the playground?

On the face of it, such an achievement seems an impossibility, given the potholes and obstacles that lie in the path ahead. Chief among these is the Brexit Bill, which came under a barrage of criticism within minutes of its publication last week.

If the government were defeated on the second reading of this measure, that would surely bring about the collapse of the May administration and probably force a general election.

And given the upward surge of Labour, the unpredicted popularity of Jeremy Corbyn, and the current state of the Tories’ disarray, that is a distinct possibility. A general election is the last thing Theresa May wants.

The full panoply of the opposition parties – with the exception, of course, of the DUP, would be ranged against the Government – plus some of her disloyal backbenchers.

The Cabinet is in an unprecedented state of disarray, with malcontent members aiming their poison darts at Chancellor Philip Hammond. He has found himself in the no less unprecedented situation of having to tell his Cabinet critics to shut up and get on with their jobs.

A Cabinet is supposed to display collective agreement and not be a hotbed of vicious feuding.

And added to this daunting scenario is the very real fear that a group of disloyal and malcontent anti-Brexit Conservative MPs could join the opposition parties and scupper this government for good over the Brexit Bill.

Labour’s Jim Callaghan used to say of his own premiership that he seemed to be constantly walking on a tightrope. That is precisely the perilous position in which Theresa May finds herself today. This issue will bedevil her for as long as she remains in power.

This dire situation is not eased by clarion calls from some quarters that the Tory Party chairman Patrick McLoughlin should be removed from office. The charge against him is that he was practically invisible during the disastrous general election campaign.

But it may well have been that the expensive and useless “experts” who were brought in from outside to advise on the Tory campaign ordered that he – along with other cabinet ministers – should lie low. A catastrophic mistake, but not one of McLoughlin’s doing.

The prime minister would be wise to ignore these demands and to keep McLoughlin in his job. The Conservative Party is already in a parlous enough state, and certainly does not need any further disruption to add to its overload of woes.

However, I think May has the spirit and the political will to keep marching forward. But I doubt whether she is sleeping as soundly as she was a year ago.

• Nick Clegg, the former Liberal Democrat leader, was rejected by voters at the last general election. He has since stated that his “time is up” in politics – which would be a commendable comment – if only it were true.

But even a has-been political force, it seems, is capable of performing a shameless U-turn (the habit obviously dies hard). Clegg is now calling for a fresh referendum on Brexit, which is bad enough in itself, but he is compounding that “felony” by saying that, in such a referendum, voters under 30 should be given the equivalent of two votes – which is outrageous.

Clegg should be reminded it was the Liberal Democrat Party he used to lead, not the Liberal Undemocrat Party. Remainers should grow up and admit they lost the referendum, learn to live with it and stop whingeing. After all, as Winston Churchill once said, “one vote is enough to claim a majority”.

No doubt the next thing we will hear is that Clegg will be demanding a new vote in his former constituency. After all, he was beaten by only 2,125 votes on June 8 – a mere bagatelle!

It looks as though Clegg is unaware of what was written in a national newspaper the other day, namely that Sir Vince Cable, the expected new leader of the Liberal Democrats, was happy to be re-elected to Parliament on a 52% vote, yet could not accept a 52% vote for Brexit.

Two peas out of the same pod.

• Does the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, spend too much time poring over his beloved spreadsheets to realise what goes on in the real world?

He could scarcely have thought of a more stupid thing to say, even if it was supposed to be a joke – especially in front of a female prime minister – that it was so easy to drive a train these days that even a woman could do it. I was astonished, incidentally, at the gentleness with which Theresa May ticked him off.

Perhaps even President Trump could pick up a few tips on chauvinism from Hammond. Just a thought.

• Tony Blair has popped up claiming that talks he has had indicate that Brussels would be prepared to make sweeping changes that would enable the UK to dump Brexit and remain a member of a reformed EU. But top Tories have said that the EU record on making promises and keeping them is abysmal, and Jeremy Corbyn, to his credit, says that the will of the people who voted for Brexit has to be honoured. So, it looks as though Blair has been stuffed.

• The ludicrous banning of the term “ladies and gentlemen” by announcers on the London Underground, reminds me of the time I addressed the Labour Party Conference on behalf of political journalists some years ago, when the normal form of greeting there was “comrade”.

However, I began my remarks by saying “ladies and gentlemen”. I was roundly booed. So I apologised and started again with the words, “My lords, ladies and gentlemen...”

I thought I would be lynched, but in fact a few of them actually laughed.