Politics is about momentum. It is about constantly moving forward – with ideas, policies, initiatives and engaging with people, groups, organisations, business, charities, everyone who wants to see you. Politics requires vision and pragmatism, decisiveness and patience, determination and gentleness, firmness and flexibility, a questioning mind and intelligence, resilience and stamina. You do not have to like people but you do need to be able to engage them. A leader, a Prime Minister, needs all of these qualities to help them create momentum. Momentum is the key to a successful Premiereship. You know it when you see it, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair both had it – the sense that the person at the top knows where they are going. You either have the big ‘mo’ or you do not. Theresa May does not. The question is can she, at this late stage, generate any.
Whether she likes it or not Mrs May is the Brexit Prime Minister. The Brexit vote forced David Cameron from office and created the opportunity for Mrs May to become Prime Minister. David Cameron’s failure is Mrs May’s opportunity – and she should embrace it and make something good out of it.
For a start Mrs May needs to face up to three key things:
1. No-one is interested in her domestic agenda. When the PM tried engaging voters on some new domestic policy at the last General Election they ran a mile. This maybe deeply frustrating for the Prime Minister, but it is just how it is. Without Brexit she might not have become PM at all.
2. There is no way of reconciling all the different bits of the Conservative Parliamentary Party to a Brexit deal. No such deal exists. It cannot be done. Margaret Thatcher, John Major, William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Howard, and David Cameron all failed to pull the Conservative Party together on Europe, and Mrs May is not about to succeed where they all failed, so she should stop trying.
3. Recognise she has fought her first and last General Election as leader of the Conservative Party. This relieves her of worry.
Too often, Brexit is spoken about as though it is a single event taking place, or not, in March 2019. In fact it is already happening. It is a gradual process of disengagement and realignment that is already well underway. Next March our Commissioner, MEPs, and other officials will come home. We will have left the institutions and the Parliament. At that point we will be the only significant economy in the world entirely on its own. The US, for example, is in NAFTA, APEC, and has a very close relationship ASEAN. Australia, Canada and New Zealand are in APEC – among many others. The United Kingdom is not a member of any of these groups – to date. So what comes next is entirely down to us, here in the UK. It is our decision to leave. We have made that decision and it is happening. Not will happen, but actually happening right now.
This is a process that is not waiting for the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, the Parliamentary Conservative Party or indeed the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It is happening all around them – and us.
To seize this opportunity, and to make something worthwhile of her Premiership, Theresa May needs to do four things:
1. Focus on Brexit full time. Make David Lidington Deputy Prime Minister and tell him to run the domestic side of the government day-to-day.
2. Move swiftly to do whatever deal she thinks is the right one as quickly as possible and then take it to Parliament, forcing the pace. Put it to Parliament, offer every MP a free vote, and invite them to support the deal. If they do Mrs May will have succeeded in doing something she believes is in the best interests of her country, and in the end that is the only real position of integrity for a Prime Minister. If they do not then she will have done her best and everyone will respect her for it. She will resign and someone else will pick up the baton (there is always some else waiting to be Prime Minister….).
3. Talk to us. Tell us what the plan is. Communication is key to building confidence and generating a sense of purpose and momentum, in the Parliamentary and national party, as well as the country at large.
4. Establish a wide-ranging policy commission to look at policy in a post Brexit world. The commission would be independent, draw in experienced people from across politics, business, faith groups, charities, academia, health, law, the arts, and science. Its recommendations should be bold, but would not be binding. It would stimulate thought and new thinking and clearly demonstrate a focus on the future.
In the end most people want The Prime Minister to succeed and to sort out the mess David Cameron left behind. We all know no outcome will bring absolute unity and harmony, but what we do want is our Prime Minister to take us into her confidence and give us a sense of direction.