FOR May, her new job will see her facing the tough task of restoring a semblance of order – and a backbench rebellion over Trident
The inauguration of Theresa May as Prime Minister will hopefully begin the long process of the British political establishment restoring some order after the post-Brexit turmoil which has marked the most tumultuous period in UK politics of the post-war period.
The former Home Secretary is widely seen as a unifying figure. That’s surely what is needed to heal the wounds of a government, party and nation inflicted by one of the most ill-tempered political campaigns in modern history, culminating in the UK’s decision to leave the European Union.
She made an impressive start with her first speech outside Number 10 as Prime Minister, speaking out strongly in favour of the Union and against social injustice. Let us hope she will do more than speak about these subjects – and that her actions match her words, the vital missing element in the behaviour of her predecessor.
One of Mrs May’s early priorities will be to bring together a party which has seen brutal blood-letting over the past months. Her “Brexit means Brexit” statement is at least a clear approach. Appointing David Davis – a eurosceptic admired for his views on issues such as civil liberties and taxation – as Brexit Secretary suggests a safe pair of hands.
The prospect of a new Cabinet approaching gender balance with more women in key roles will also provide a fresh approach.
Perhaps more importantly, Mrs May must also find a way to bring the country back together after the anger which has marked so much of the bitter exchanges of the referendum campaign. The most concerning aspect of the Brexit aftermath has been the rise in hate crime, which jumped by a massive 42 per cent in the fortnight surrounding the date of the vote. The new Prime Minister has a responsibility to ensure the transition to Brexit, while marked by a firm approach, must bypass the rancour and intemperate approach which scarred much of the campaign.
And of course the Scotland question will not be far from Mrs May’s thoughts. Nicola Sturgeon was in London yesterday reminding the UK leader that Scots voted to stay in the EU. “If Brexit means Brexit, then Remain means Remain,” is the new SNP mantra and the First Minister made it clear that she wants to be allowed to explore all options to keep Scotland in the EU. And of course that may mean a second vote on Scottish independence. Will the new Prime Minister be so keen to allow such as vote, with Westminster having the final say on the constitution?
But before Brexit, Indyref2 or even national reconciliation, Mrs May has the future of the UK’s nuclear defences to sort out as MPs vote on the renewal of Trident on Monday. Labour is in turmoil on the issue, but Mrs May herself faces the prospect of Conservative MPs opposing the government, as they feel the £30 billion cost could be better allocated to conventional weapons.
A backbench rebellion brewing after just five days in the job: welcome, Prime Minister.
Labour facing real threat of split
The open warfare raging inside the Labour party is now surely worse than anything it faced even during the 1980s at the height of its struggles with the Militant tendency. But at least Labour and the country has been spared an unsavoury court battle to ensure that Jeremy Corbyn was allowed to stand on the ballot for the forthcoming leadership contest. The small print of the party’s NEC rules is surely dwarfed by the sense of natural injustice which would have ensued from any attempt to block the current leader from taking on the challenge of Angela Eagle and Owen Smith.
The challengers feel they had to act because Mr Corbyn is “unelectable.” Ms Eagle proved herself an able performer during the EU referendum campaign, but ultimately ended up on the losing side. Owen Smith, the former shadow work and pensions secretary, is largely unknown. What does seem certain is that Mr Corbyn is now the overwhelming favourite to win the forthcoming contest.
It’s not so certain what the future holds for Labour if he is returned to the helm of the party. Upwards of 40 of his shadow cabinet and ministerial team have walked out in protest at his leadership. How will he possibly be able to unite the party and provide effective opposition at such a crucial political juncture with a new Prime Minister and Britain poised to end its 40-year-old membership of the European Union?
The civil war within Labour during the 1980s led to a split which saw a group of senior MPs leave to form the Social Democratic Party (SDP). It does increasingly feel like the warring factions in Labour are so divided that a similar split may provide the only resolution to the party’s current woes.