JOHN McGURK OCTOBER 25 2016
One of the many privileges of editing a national newspaper is the constant flow of rumour, speculation, gossip, and sometimes fact, which is dripped in your ear by politicians. Some of it is even publishable, in some form or other, but most has to get stored away for future use.
So imagine what is currently going on among the Right Honourable members of Mrs May’s cabinet who appear to be slagging each other off at every opportunity by leaking secrets to political reporters and commentators as they jockey for power in these heady days of Brexit.
The finger is being pointed towards Messrs Johnson, Davis and Fox, the three leading euro-sceptics who have been tasked with taking Britain out of Europe, and who have each been reprimanded in recent weeks for unapproved unilateral statements on government policy.
Yes, would you believe it, they’re fighting like cats in a sack as they manoeuvre for power.
Those nasty briefings against the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, after he dared to disagree over immigration is the latest example of the poison which is being spread across Westminster.
What this clash exposed was Mrs May’s determination to halt mass immigration into the UK therefore emphasising her preference for a hard Brexit and putting the single market at risk.
Perhaps this was why the Brexit Minister David Davis had the confidence to strike out against Scotland when he visited Glasgow last Friday to meet business folk.
Westminster politicians should be very wary when they cross the border. Neither David Cameron nor George Osborne ever mastered the technique.
In fact, all they achieved was pouring fuel on to the fire as evidenced when Osborne stood against a backdrop of Edinburgh Castle and declared that an independent Scotland could never use the pound. The demand for independence surged overnight.
Mr Davis did no better when he announced that there would be no separate deal for Scotland in the Brexit negotiations, exactly the opposite to what Nicola is demanding.
The arrangements will be “a United Kingdom deal” he declared, dismissing the SNP’s stated aim to maintain a relationship with Europe over jobs, investment and immigration despite what the rest of the country does.
The Brexit minister clearly has no intention of treating Scotland as an equal partner particularly since the prime minister reiterated his words yesterday at the meeting of the heads of the devolved nations at the first Joint Ministerial Committee since the Brexit vote.
Nicola described it all as “deeply depressing”. After all she’s been elected and Mrs May has not.
Mrs May has the terrible weakness of being an unelected prime minister at the head of an unelected government.
Of course we are all fed up with the lot of them after the Scottish independence referendum, the general election, the Scottish Parliament election and the European referendum all staged within the last two years.
The prime minister knows that we’ve had enough of politics lately. Besides, the focus should be on Brexit not another election.
But perhaps that view is going to have to change.
Over the weekend Britain’s banking association, clearly unhappy about how Brexit is proceeding, warned that major banks were getting ready to push the relocate button and some smaller banks were prepared to quit the UK before Christmas.
If Mrs May wants to shrug off the charge that she has no mandate; if she wants to create business confidence; if she wants to hold genuine authority within her party; if she wants her European peers to know that she means business; if she is determined to secure the best possible outcome for the UK, then perhaps a spring general election is the answer.
According to the polls, the Conservatives are 18 points ahead of Labour who were beaten into second place by the Lib Dems at last week’s Witney by-election, the seat previously held by David Cameron.
It was a contest where the Tories should have expected to maintain their sizeable majority but it was slashed from 60% to 45%.
This should make Mrs May think carefully about how voters are responding to her leadership and whether she, and her cabinet, are doing enough to carry the country before triggering Article 50.
When Gordon Brown held back calling an election in 2008, when he and Labour were effortlessly much more popular than the Conservatives, it was the biggest mistake of his premiership. By the time he came to his senses it was too late and he had been outsmarted.
If there was an election tomorrow, the Conservatives would gain a landslide win and have a majority of more than 100, leaving Labour and the SNP powers not to be reckoned with.
Perhaps Mrs May should throw caution to the wind and, at the same time, put slimy, dastardly politicians in their place.
But I do miss them!