Politicians at Westminster and Holyrood are on their Easter holidays at the moment, but that has not stopped attempts to remove the Prime Minister going on in the background. Calls for resignation of the Prime Minister go with the job. It’s something the occupant of 10 Downing Street can expect the moment the threshold has been crossed.
Normally the calls of “resign, resign” come from the opposition parties with, over a period of time, one or two disgruntled backbenchers throwing their toys out of the pram too. The usual conventions are that if Cabinet ministers start to resign there is such a calamitous loss of self-confidence within the governing party that the prime minister has little alternative but to fall on his or her sword.
Margaret Thatcher was never voted out of office by the people, or by her MPs. She won every general election she contested, rode out the resignations of her Defence Secretary, Chancellor and Foreign Secretary, and won various leadership challenges when confronted with them.
When she was challenged again, ostensibly about her policy on the Poll Tax, but surreptitiously about her policy towards what would become the European Union, she took counsel from ministers and supportive MPs and decided that, having won the first round, she should not contest the second round and moved aside. The party members were appalled she had been forced out but were not given a say.
The course of events that have developed with Theresa May have some similarities but some significant differences. Theresa May did not win her general election in 2017 after a dreadful campaign and might have tendered her resignation at that time, allowing a different minister to form a government. It would have been the honourable thing to do. Instead she limped on with the support of the DUP.
Since then she has seen her flagship policy – her so-called ‘deal’ with the EU defeated not just once, or twice, but three times, and by record numbers. The honourable course of action at that point would have been to resign, but not this Prime Minister.
She has also seen the resignation of countless cabinet ministers, including her Defence Secretary, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary – as well as not one, but two Brexit Secretaries, both of whom she betrayed by going to the EU behind their backs.
Her Cabinet is at war with her and against each other, with collective responsibility a completely meaningless term. The DUP have made it clear they have no faith in her. In such a state of disarray the honourable thing to do would have been to resign and let someone else take the reins. Not this Prime Minister.
On more than 100 recorded occasions, the Prime Minister swore to us – even offering a “guarantee” – that the UK would leave the EU on March 29, 2019.
The law was set up to achieve this and she had the power to deliver it – but we did not leave on that date, nor on her second promise of April 12 either. She swore she would not “contemplate” leaving after June 30 but has broken that promise too by accepting a new leaving date of October 31. In breaking so many promises the honourable thing would have been to resign. Not this Prime Minister.
Her MPs tried to remove her in December but the government ‘payroll’ vote kept her in place. We now have European elections she said would not happen and the Tories have fallen way behind Labour in the polls.
Now constituency chairmen are seeking to call an emergency general meeting to sack her using internal party rules – and are already close to getting the 65 signatures they require.
I wish them Godspeed – but I have a warning. A prime minister without honour will seek to ignore them. I do hope I am wrong.