Voters gave both main parties a kick in the pants

Chris Moncrieff
Chris Moncrieff
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The Brexit bogeyman has crept into Britain’s town halls and has now played a major role in transforming the local government landscape in the country.

In the local elections, the Conservatives have paid a heavy price for what many regard as their bumbling, shambolic and feeble negotiations with the hard men of Brussels - although to be fair the results were not so horrendous for the Tories as many of their supporters had feared.

The surprising rise in Liberal Democrat fortunes at the vote will have been noted with some anxiety by both Labour and Conservatives

The surprising rise in Liberal Democrat fortunes at the vote will have been noted with some anxiety by both Labour and Conservatives

Even so, it has come to something when the Brexit Minister James Cleverly said he would be “happy” with a loss of 500 council seats (a figure of 1,000 had been mooted). Labour, too, lost key seats, making a mockery of their claim to be the Government in waiting.

They will also, probably feel the need to tone down their clamour for an immediate general election.

The results also show the voters delivering a sharp and painful kick in the pants of the two main parties, warning them to get a grip on Brexit or face even more dire punishment at the general election.

Both Labour and Conservatives will have noted, with some anxiety, the surprising rise in Liberal Democrat fortunes at the vote.

All this, plus the imminent emergence of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party should set the alarm bells jangling in both the Labour and Tory camps.

Perhaps the only charitable thing which can be said about the ex-Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson is that he was grossly over-promoted, that he is still a small boy in short trousers in the grown-up world of politics, and that he is streamingly wet behind the ears when it comes to leaks.

But it would be wrong to ignore his emphatic and indeed dramatic denials that he has done anything wrong. Has he been traduced and hung out to dry?

The only way, it seems, to resolve this nagging doubt would be a criminal investigation for alleged breach of the Official Secrets Act. This seems unlikely at the time of writing, since the Prime Minister says she regards the matter as closed.

But the question of criminal prosecution does not rest with the Prime Minister unless the Government refers the matter to Scotland Yard — which seems highly unlikely.

The fact that Williamson declined the Prime Minister’s offer to him to resign rather than being fired is telling. For, as he points out that would amount to an admission of guilt. But it cannot be denied that he telephoned a Daily Telegraph journalist at a critical moment.

If ever there was a Gordian knot, this is it.

The Commons Speaker John Bercow’s diktat banning President Trump from addressing both Houses of Parliament in the Palace of Westminster during his forthcoming state visit has, understandably, aroused anger way beyond Westminster.

No wonder. Whatever you think about the individual, he is leader of the free world, a great friend of the United Kingdom and to snub him like this once he has been invited here is intolerable.

However, there is a way round this ludicrous ban. The Prime Minister might well be persuaded to do what Tony Blair did in 2003 - he switched the venue for George W Bush’s address to Whitehall’s Banqueting House, a stone’s throw from Parliament.

This venue is way beyond the grasping reach of Bercow’s powers. We cannot afford to allow the President to leave the UK with a bad taste in his mouth.

Incidentally, I wonder whether the Speaker would have the brass neck to attend.

Is Prime Minister’s Question Time losing its allure? Once it was the unchallenged highlight of the Parliamentary week: a crowded rowdy chamber, high expectation - usually fulfilled - of an enthralling gladiatorial contest.

But that seems to have changed - for the worse. Last week’s session took place in a chamber that was far from packed. And neither of the two principal combatants Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn possess the exciting theatrical flair of most of their predecessors.

Unfortunately, therefore, PMQs is now run-of-the-mill, shorn of all drama. Sadly, they could now erect the sort of notice that you used to see outside cinemas: “Seats in all parts.”

The situation was cruelly summed up in a Tweet by Labour MP Chris Bryant: “A vacant chamber and a vacuous Government.”