No party should be allowed to leave the UK in the economically stifling leadership limbo we’re in now, argues Brian Monteith
When, in a few years’ time, we look back at the election of the Conservative leader to replace David Cameron, and therefore take office as Prime Minister, I sincerely hope we will have by then recognised that party processes should not be put before the vital interests of the country. We cannot allow a situation whereby a Prime Minister can announce his or her resignation but then hang around as if nothing much has changed, while party managers dictate the timing of finding a replacement.
Following the stunning decision of the referendum to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union, the country has, to all intents and purposes, been leaderless. That unacceptable state of affairs is set to continue for another two months.
Resignation must mean resignation. If it requires a temporary appointment of an experienced politician with no interest in taking the office permanently then so be it; that would be preferable to the hiatus where investment decisions and the jobs that depend on them are put at risk. While the outcome of Brexit is being pointed to as contributing to uncertainty, what is being missed is that the Prime Minister’s departure and an incredible lack of planning for a Leave vote in the referendum is a far larger factor.
For this shameful state of affairs we can thank David Cameron and George Osborne, and others in the Conservative Party who could have done more to ensure stability in such uncertain times. Forget the official opposition’s own self-indulgence of a leadership challenge to Jeremy Corbyn: in the scale of what matters, it is a mere sideshow.
Last week it was confirmed that both the Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer had no contingency plans for a Leave vote. While the Treasury had found the time and resources to publish not just one but two economic reports designed to scare the public into voting Remain, it did not undertake the most basic of preparations for a Leave result. During the campaign the Chancellor had talked of the likelihood of higher taxes and public spending cuts, but now we find the only cut he feels appropriate is to the rate of corporation tax.
Imagine the City reaction if George Osborne had said during the campaign that a Leave vote would lead to a Corporation Tax rate of 15 per cent – many businesses would have naturally have voiced greater support for Brexit, and with changed expectations the currency would be under less pressure than it is now. The turbulence we are witnessing is of the Chancellor’s own making, and the quicker a new person is found to hold that office the better. Both Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom must make it plain that Osborne will not be a continuity Chancellor.
Likewise, while the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had found the time and resources during the campaign to persuade world leaders to voice their support for the Remain campaign, it had no contingency plans for reassuring our international friends that a Leave vote would not alter our commitment to longstanding alliances.
We now find ourselves in a situation where our currency is at the mercy of speculators and economic indicators face a period of destabilising turbulence. In such circumstances good news – and there is much to be found in new investment announcements and new jobs being created – is often ignored and the focus turns easily to any signs of bad news. The unwillingness of many Remain campaigners to accept the democratic outcome of the referendum – exemplified by comments from Richard Branson and Tony Blair to suggest it should not necessarily mean the UK leaving the EU – only serves to ensure that anything that might possibly go wrong with the economy will be blamed on Brexit, no matter how tenuous the link.
It is a disgraceful state of affairs that with the known certainty of a referendum date the government, with all its vast resources and the civil service machine at its disposal, failed to prepare for both outcomes. If the Prime Minister and the Chancellor were so certain, as they kept telling us, that Brexit would be a living nightmare, then surely there was all the more reason to be prepared to reassure the markets that any change would be gradual and well-ordered. Instead, their scaremongering has only heightened the expectations of risk and uncertainty, making the prospect of businesses losing confidence.
This lack of strategic planning extends beyond government and into the Conservative Party itself. It has been reported in reliable Conservative organs that David Cameron actually wanted the leadership contest to take even longer, with the decision being announced at the Party conference in October.
We now have two candidates for Conservative leader, why then does it have to take eight weeks to conduct a postal ballot of the party’s members? Should we not expect this to be a relatively easy affair that can be conducted speedily? The Conservative Party, often quick enough to criticise the running of trade union ballots, should set an example by sending out ballot papers immediately and await their return within a fortnight.
Yes, some party members will be on holiday and might miss their opportunity to vote. Yes, parliament will be moving into recess and politicians are not expected to be available to campaign. Neither circumstance is a reason to hold back on conducting a ballot in good time. Nowadays people go on holiday at all times of the year and cannot expect the world to stop for them if they choose to take a vacation. Nor are politicians important at this final stage; they have already had their say and their individual votes are no more important than any other party member’s.
It is not as if the two candidates, Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom, could not put together their personal message appealing for support so that the papers could go out immediately. They are politicians and preparing such rallying calls should be their stock-in-trade.They have enough advisors, after all.
The lack of preparedness by the government is shambolic and should not be allowed to happen again. Stricter procedures must be put in place so that no party, whatever its colour, can leave the most senior government offices in limbo, risking the economy and the livelihoods upon which so many depend.