When I worked for ITN during the eighties I would find myself throwing questions at Premier Thatcher and various cabinet members usually outside in Downing Street – decamping to the seaside during the conference season.
In the run up to the Tories 1989’s Party Conference the bust up between Margaret Thatcher and her Chancellor, Nigel Lawson was coming to a head. Europe has long been the Conservatives fault line and this period was no different. Lawson was shadowing the Deutschemark and Thatcher had her own economic adviser, Alan Walter.
On the eve of Conference proper dressed in their glad rags Thatcher and her Chancellor walked down the stairs together in the Imperial Hotel Blackpool en route to the Agents Dinner as ‘a show of solidarity’.
I shouted ‘Do you have confidence in your Chancellor, Prime Minister’? I didn’t really expect an answer but as Lawson himself wrote, in admittedly one of the better political autobiographies, he was prepared to go through the charade for appearance sake even if the two of them together looked as awkward as they felt and in front of ‘a distinctly sceptical massed press’.
Right question to the wrong person. I should have directed the question to the Chancellor and asked if he had confidence in his Prime Minister?
A few weeks later, ostensibly over Alan Walters remaining as her personal economic adviser, Lawson resigned. Walters was merely the excuse the reality was disputes over the ERM and exchange rates more generally. A year later Thatcher who had won a third term with a landslide and insisted she would – ‘go on and on’ – was ousted.
Theresa May’s snap election was a catastrophe. Surveying the electoral wreckage of a lost majority and safe seats transformed by a resurgent Corbyn led Labour Party into marginals, a contrite Theresa May told Tory MPs, ‘I got us into this mess and I’m going to get us out of it. I will continue to serve as long as you want me.’
Trapped by a journalist’s question in Japan contrition had given way to misplaced hubris. Calculating on no other contender being in the frame she provoked Tory MPs fury by proclaiming that she was not a quitter and would fight the next election.
Hard line Brexiteers seized the moment to prop her up as the best person to achieve their objectives in the negotiations. Welcome to Stockholm – Prime Minister.
Conference in a few weeks will see would be opponents puffing and preening while simultaneously parroting the line that there is a leader.
There will be an onslaught on Jeremy. Stick with May or you will get Corbyn will be their mantra. They are running scared.
Despite claims by Tory supporting journalists that Labour’s Brexit strategy is in chaos. It isn’t. Conference season when the Westminster political/media bubble transports itself, this year to Brighton Labour, and Manchester Conservative, concentrates minds.
Respect referendum result
Sir Keith Starmer has always been clear, no matter that he campaigned passionately to remain, the result of the referendum must be respected. That is not the same as Labour giving the Prime Minister a blank cheque when the Repeal Bill to transpose EU law directly into UK law from when Britain leaves the European Union is debated this week in the Commons.
The Repeal Bill sounds obvious but gives ministers powers (dubbed Henry VIII powers after the Tudor king’ contempt for parliamentary constraint) to change primary legislation using secondary legislation without Parliamentary scrutiny.
By the time this is printed we should know which of the Tory Remainers have voted with Labour. It’s said there will be trench warfare in the commons. Let’s see.
You’d think the way the Tories Brexiteers go on about the referendum result that was close was in fact a landslide. Perhaps that is the same landslide that they didn’t get in the snap election?
Labour and the unions are clear the economy and jobs are paramount. Frances O’Grady writing in the Guardian this week said MPs had a duty to ensure that workers’ rights derived from EU law.
She warned that imaginative lawyers acting for unscrupulous employers would take every opportunity to whittle down our rights through endless legal challenges.
“Left to Ministers, wrote Frances, most at risk are rules that protect small groups of vulnerable workers – which are far easier to pick off”.
We know what Conservatives are like. We’ve seen the way they have sought to destroy trade unions. Experienced the consequences of their political choice – austerity. Pay freezes for our nurses, teachers, doctors, fire fighters. Misery for disabled people who’ve suffered cuts. The list is endless.
Labour have a clear strategy – stay in the single market and customs union during a ‘transitional period.
The snap election confounded those in the Parliamentary Labour Party who had wasted time plotting against the leadership. Labour in Brighton should be united. It won’t be the same story in Manchester. Expect turmoil and wait for history to repeat itself.
This comment piece first appeared in Tribune, September 7.