I bumped into Grant Shapps at the Conservative Conference in Manchester and we exchanged pleasantries -we were after all ministerial colleagues in the same department, and I was always in awe of his intellect, his sheer determination and energy. He didn’t give the slightest hint of the ‘plot’ which has subsequently emerged. Perhaps he realised that I would not be remotest of prospects (or perhaps he just thought me now of too little consequence). In any event, he has now been ‘outed’ in a Machiavellian master-stroke by the government whips. I know how dreadful it is being at the centre of a media feeding frenzy, so I do not envy him, but hey, he had it coming.
Understandably. I have had a huge correspondence about splits and leadership challenges. I share my correspondents’ frustration, but not their evident surprise: I cannot recall when it was not so.
I was David Cameron’s parliamentary secretary for 8 years, both as leader of the opposition and Prime Minister. I cannot remember when there wasn’t plotting. I did the same job for Michael Howard, and I was in the Whips office during Ian Duncan-Smiths turbulent leadership: The battle was continuous. John Major fought a long guerrilla war with elements of the Parliamentary party. No less so, did Maggie. Even Churchill had to endure continuous sniping from his own side. The Other parties are no different. Blair spoke of the scars on his back, and Jeremy Corbyn had the most turbulent contests up until the June election.
Our electoral system ensures that our political parties have to be broad churches of generally like-minded people who, nevertheless will be bound to disagree on important issues affecting the future of our country. This should not surprise us but, add to that mix the large egos disproportionately possessed by politicians, and the short attention span of our journalism which has a tendency to see everything through the prism of ‘personalities’, and it is little wonder that the headlines scream.
Of the inundation of emails, not one has urged me to use my influence dispose of the current PM. They have all supported her. I believe they are right to do so because the challenge that we face as a nation is one of policy not personality. There are two key issues to be addressed:
First, to negotiate BREXIT on advantageous terms.
Second, to maintain financial stability whilst at the same time addressing the proper public demand to improve the housing situation, productivity and stagnant wages, care for the elderly, growing student debt, and… I could go on.
None of these priorities would be advanced by the distraction of a leadership election. If there were a candidate who so obviously were going to make a better fist of it than the current PM then one might understand the motive, but there isn’t.
This is a time to hold our nerve, to knuckle down, and get on with the job.