Theresa May the right woman for very difficult job

Chris Moncrieff
Chris Moncrieff

That veteran Tory war-horse Kenneth Clarke, in an unchivalrous outburst, described the new prime minister as “a difficult woman” as she entered 10 Downing Street.

He did not intend it as a compliment. But Theresa May certainly saw it as a massive accolade.

Because so rarely before has Britain more needed a “difficult woman” at the helm, to steer the nation through the winding highways and byways of Brexit, the Spaghetti Junction of British politics.

Mrs May will be combating a posse of Brussels bureaucrats who have already shown themselves to be hard-headed, obstinate, bloody-minded and greedy in the initial skirmishes over Brexit. And when the negotiations – more appropriate perhaps to describe them as political warfare – really do get going, they will be tough and uncompromising at the very least.

That is why it’s vital to have leading the British contingent someone at least as obdurate as our opponents. And Theresa May seems to be just the right person, whose style may be different from that of Margaret Thatcher’s in dealing with EU grandees, but will be just as effective.

She’s already made clear she will not surrender to their ludicrous demands, including a threat that Britain will have to pay £50 billion to escape from their clutches. That is, of course, simply ludicrous, and they should be told that in no uncertain terms.

The prime minister’s also come under fire for not disclosing her hand over Britain’s tactics in dealing with Brussels over Brexit. Cannot her critics understand that, just as in any industrial negotiations, you do not expose your plans in advance, thus giving your opponents an advantage? That is simple common sense.

So I am afraid the Queen, along with Mrs May’s political critics, will have to remain disappointed over her decision to keep it all close to her chest.

The Brussels contingent have already shown themselves to be petty-minded and downright rude in giving Mrs May the cold shoulder during her last visit to Brussels. That was simply a disgrace.

And if those who sit in plush offices in Brussels and elsewhere believed our new prime minister was going to be a pushover, then they could not have been more wrong.

• Jeremy Corbyn faces the first real test of his Labour leadership with the impending by-election at Copeland – the home of Sellafield.

And he would be justified in being furious with Copeland’s Labour MP, Jamie Reed, for quitting Parliament, mid-term, to return to his former Sellafield employer.

At a general election, the successful candidate effectively gives his new constituents a pledge that he will serve their interests for the next five years, unless he has to quit for some dire reason. Preferring a new job – as is the case wih Reed – is not a good reason for abandoning ship.

On top of that, Labour enjoyed a majority of a mere 2,564 at Copeland at last year’s general election. So Reed has lumbered his party with a highly vulnerable seat to fight.

If I was Corbyn, I’d be spitting blood at what’s happened, especially since Reed (a stern critic of Corbyn) claims he can be of more use to the people of Copeland as a Sellafield executive than as an MP.

I have never heard a claim like that before.

• Lord Jenkin, a Tory peer, who died just before Christmas aged 90, faithfully served Margaret Thatcher in a variety of Cabinet posts. His misfortune was to be given a number of tricky and unpopular tasks to carry out, including the abolition of the formidable Ken Livingstone’s Greater London Council.

But he suffered also from the misfortune that his considerable political achievements were overshadowed by his gaffes which, although few in number, were quite spectacular.

The outstanding one was to urge people to clean their teeth in the dark, so as to save energy during Edward Heath’s three-day week period.

That was laughable enough – especially since he himself used an electric toothbrush – but it was made worse for him by a photograph taken of his house at the time, with all lights blazing. He never really got over that.

• It would be a great help all round if the top brass of the RMT, one of the unions deeply involved in the wave of rail strikes, could get their act together.

This is what Sean Hoyle, president of the union said the other day: “Any trade unionist with any sense wants to bring down this bloody working-class-hating Tory Government. That is what we want to do. That is what we are about.”

And this is what Mick Cash, the RMT’s general secretary, said: “This is not part of some conspiracy to bring the Government down.”

So, which one do you believe? You pays your money...

Meanwhile, it would clear the fog somewhat if in future these two men warbled from the same hymn sheet.