Toby Stephens, Contributor.
In July 1962, Harold Macmillan orchestrated one of the most Machiavellian change-ups in British politics up until that date. In what was later termed The Night of the Long Knives, (in reference to Hitler’s consolidation of power twenty-eight years earlier) Macmillan fired a third of his cabinet at once and ultimately sealed his fate. He resigned 15 months later under the auspices of ill-health, leading to Sir Alec Douglas-Home replacing him and the inevitable loss to Labour under Wilson in 1964.
For Theresa May, using Machiavellian politics to create a cabinet of loyal party members is her hemlock. With a slim majority in Parliament propped up by the DUP, significant divisions in the Party over Brexit and Hammond, Rudd and Johnson all eyeing up the top job, any attempt to create a cabinet of supporters will ultimately lead to a Thatcher-esque leadership challenge by one of the three. Given his backstabbing ways, Boris is ultimately going to be the one to make the first strike and subsequently a three-horse race will emerge. Under normal circumstances, Johnson would have been sacked months ago but he is acting as one of the few remaining bungs keeping the grassroots of the party from sinking her ship. In the ineloquent words of Lyndon B Johnson ‘‘It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.’’
Again, under normal circumstances, Priti Patel would have been fired much earlier than she was. When the story broke of her involvement with Israeli Ministers and Netanyahu on an unofficial basis on Monday, an apology was made by Patel, a slap on the wrists by No. 10 and she was sent on her way to Kenya to lay low and not cause any more headaches for May. However, the next day, when further details were released of Patel’s aim to use British Foreign Aid in assisting the Israeli Armed Forces in the Golan Heights, the final straw was broken.
When Home’s replacement Harold Wilson said that ”a week is a long time in politics,” he was certainly not exaggerating. Fast forward fifty years and it can easily be said that a day in a Twitter and WhatsApp connected Westminster is a long time in politics. A scandal leaked in 1966 would have taken at least a week to have reached out to enough people and ruffled enough feathers to warrant a ‘resignation.’ Now, an entire week’s worth of unrest has been shortened down to a day.
With journalists able to share whatever information they’ve gathered almost instantly through social media, gone are the days of editors waiting for the next morning’s papers to publish stories. Now, the public can accurately pre-empt the moves of the PM, long before they are actually made.
When she was ordered back to No. 10, Flightradar24 reported that over 22,000 people were tracking her solemn flight back to London, all of whom seeming aware of Patel’s fate before she was. The simple website haspritipatelbeensackedyet.com was created on Wednesday before her dismissal with the page simply turning the message from No to Yes when the inevitable news broke. At this rate, by 2067 a scandal will last but a few hours and replacements sorted before elevenses.
With this being the second government minister to ‘resign’ in two weeks, one must truly ask whether this cabinet meticulously constructed following June’s humiliating defeat in all bar result, balanced so as to give the Brexiteers of the party ample room to flex their muscles in the echelons of power, will hold. The loss of one of the key links to the grassroots of the Tory party is likely to prove extremely problematic for May, particularly once Boris takes a step too far for her low standards of treachery and ‘resigns.’ Furthermore, with May’s backup should she fall, Damien Green, also facing charges of keeping ‘extreme’ pornography on his Commons computer, she truly is on the rocks.
This could not come at a worse time for Theresa May with the Budget being announced in less than two weeks’ time. As Labour’s policy of ending austerity is becoming ever resonant with voters, Phillip Hammond may well have to bite the bullet and concede that increases in public spending are needed to keep the current government electable.
Failing that, there is always the option of making as many miniscule changes as possible and trying to micromanage these scandals in a Whack a Mole style, her nightshade. The Tories barely won the election in June and it is genuinely unlikely that should Parliament by some miracle run its full term before a vote of confidence that May would bring back a victory. Her ‘Maybot’ persona is sticking, the economy is suffering from huge levels of inequality and Labour now being viewed as the ‘united’ party of British politics, she is again unlikely to be embraced by the electorate with open arms.
Whilst this is certainly not the time for the left to indulge in overconfidence and inevitability, it does look promising that a truly left-wing government on par with that of Atlee will be in Westminster. It is a shame that it took the idiotic act of Brexit for this to happen but every cloud has a silver lining.
Inaction in dealing with open treachery and misconduct in her Cabinet will invariably lead to the seed of doubt that was planted on June the 8th in the Tories flowering and developing into a Labour government. Similarly, action of a Macmillan nature is only going to fan the flames of dissent amongst the ranks. If the right cards are played then in a year’s time I may be writing on the failings of Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.