James Carson, Contributor.
After months of fighting their ideological battles in the briefing rooms of Whitehall, it comes as no real surprise that the war of words between Prime Minister Theresa May, and her Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson came to a head on Friday.
Through his 4,200-word essay published in The Telegraph last Saturday, Johnson eloquently reopened the dreamer’s vision of Brexit, which I signed up to at the referendum last June. Whilst his article was at best insubordinate, he finally gave a voice to those who believe we need to stop relitigating Brexit. The country has grown weary and needs hope and reassurance.
It is little surprise that this clash of the Conservative titans has not sparked overnight, indeed it hasn’t even come from the last election or the leadership challenge. Both May and Johnson are steely pragmatists, if one struggles to see this we need only look to why they sided with their respective camps during the referendum.
We all know Boris as the face of the Vote Leave campaign, the emotional and oratorical heart of the referendum and essential to the victory. The publication of his article last October where he would have backed the remain camp shows his support of Brexit has not been a matter of conviction or principle, but that of political opportunism.
Whilst Johnson suffered some embarrassment with the publication of his secret Pro-EU article, the Prime Minister’s position on Europe has received comparatively little scrutiny. Let us not forget that though May played a limited role in the “Stronger In” campaign, she escaped with her reputation intact. This was in sharp contrast to her predecessor David Cameron as well as then-Chancellor and now arch critic, George Osbourne.
Since the advent of her premiership Mrs May has had her hands tied by her Eurosceptic MPs, many of whom held reservations during the leadership contest but, given the lack of credible alternatives, elected to fall in line. Her Lancaster House Speech did much to temporarily allay these suspicions, however this progress towards genuine stability was sacrificed by the lust for strength.
The election of June 2017 will be immortalised in the first line of every political obituary of Theresa May, the election which appeared too hard to lose. Indeed, it was the election campaign which embodied the ineptitudes which blight our Prime Minister. Miscalculation over her flagship policies, inability to orchestrate her cabinet by threatening to sack them after the election and struggling to answer the most basic of questions. Yet worst of all was her arrogance, the assumption that the British people would elect her without any substantive reason, given that the alternative was Jeremy Corbyn.
Her ability to survive in wake of this electoral humiliation is remarkable, but it takes a fool not to see that our government has remained stagnant since June. The Government pursues a domestic agenda reliant on a shabby deal with the DUP and remains subject to knee-jerk change by warring cabinet ministers.
Where we need our Government to be stable and direct is when we look to what comes next with our neighbours. The Prime Minister’s speech in Florence on Friday symbolised the complete absence of authority which Downing Street exerts over the government. The very real threat of the Foreign Secretary resigning unless his conditions were met is a ball and chain which no Prime Minister should be shackled to.
But the reality of this vapid and empty speech from the Prime Minister is a truth that many might find hard to swallow. The fact is Boris is right, the cabinet is like a nest of singing birds. But the sound we hear is not the harmony of morning song which the country needs right now, instead it is a cacophony of contradictory ideas.
When the orchestra is playing out of tune, at first you try to reshuffle the musicians and hope the harmony returns. But when the music still doesn’t improve, it is only natural that eyes turn to the conductor leading them in song.
It is time for the return of order to our governance in a time when we truly need leadership. The challenges, both foreign and domestic, that face our nation are too grave to be put at risk by any government misstep, let alone an administration that makes multiple on a daily basis. If we’re to make the most of the opportunity which Brexit has offered, the political reality requires there is a leader in Number Ten who can lead us to the brighter days which are on offer, not simply stop the government from imploding on any given day.
For this reason, the time has come Mrs May to give way. It’s time for the nest to sing a new, harmonious song under a new conductor. It might involve some short term political inconvenience, but this is worth suffering to ensure that we get the right leader to deliver the right Brexit. Who it is could not be more immaterial, but it’s a job which must be done right.