Theresa May could lead UK into ‘promised land’ of Brexit, but her career as Prime Minister is on its last legs, writes John McLellan.
With busy lives full of modern distractions, it’s very rare for our children to sit down in one place to watch the same TV show at the same time. Nothing unusual there. Nor is it unusual for them never ever to have shown the slightest interest in watching a political broadcast but on Wednesday night it was different because Brexit so dominates every aspect of national life even they wanted to hear what the Prime Minister had to say.
At 8.14pm, my 14-year-old son and 23-year-old daughter were waiting for Mrs May, at 8.35pm there were shouts of “Come on, Theresa, get on with it” and by 8.45pm the result was blank looks and the inevitable question: “Is that it?”
Like the rest of the country, they were waiting for a decisive moment, a historic announcement, the grandest of gestures; something, anything, which would signal the final breakthrough which will end the national water-torture of a political process in which every group believes in the implicit righteousness of their position and cannot contemplate any other course of action.
What they got was essentially a declaration that “everyone’s out of step except me” and, with the sigh of the deflated, they went back to their phones, screens or whatever they would normally be doing. In fact, so underwhelming was the whole thing that I’m sure Fraser went back to his homework.
But something historic had happened, because in a single five-minute broadcast Mrs May went from the leader of the country and my party to leading a group of one. With rebellions all around her, her decision to blame MPs infuriated the Whip’s Office and, by alienating herself from the parliamentary disciplinary mechanism, she actually threatened the entire party management system. This cannot go on. She has succeeded in winning a short delay, but there is no guarantee that by 12 April we will be any nearer a resolution and yesterday the Conservative Home website, the voice of the grassroots, summed it up: “One can’t help admiring May’s ducking and diving, her evasions, her twists and turns, her deflections, her gnomic silences – the sheer inventiveness and tenacity with which she hangs on. So evasive have been her dealings, so profuse her positions, that she was bound sooner or later to stumble across one that would work. Her tactical win is wrapped in a strategic defeat.”
Who knows what will happen next week, or by 12 April. No deal is still a very real possibility despite the Commons vote so I would rather the deal went through. If I was to pin a tail on the Brexit donkey, it would be the Withdrawal Agreement but with a confirmatory referendum on the deal or Remain. How that happens or when I have no idea.
Much rests on the realistic, sensible and affable shoulders of Cabinet Office minister David Liddington and while a change of leadership right now would be pointless if not dangerous, Mrs May’s departure upon agreement must surely now be the price of success. She is a regular churchgoer so will be familiar with the story of Moses; whatever land it is she is promising, she cannot cross over.
Extra spice for Greens
Somewhat less historic but still remarkable is the publication of the 25th edition of “Scotland the Best” this week and, to mark the occasion, the unsurpassed guidebook’s author, ex-Edinburgh Hogmanay director, Pete Irvine, gave an interview to The Scotsman in which he bemoaned the impact of “over-tourism” in the Capital.
“It probably has more hotels opening than anywhere else in Britain, although the hotel sector is already well served, particularly at the top end,” he said. This was then cited by the Greens at Edinburgh Council’s Housing & Economy committee on Thursday as counter-evidence to the Edinburgh International Conference centre chief Marshall Dallas who argued a lack of four and five star accommodation affected his business.
Mr Dallas, who was food & beverage manager at Gleneagles before running Edinburgh’s Roxburghe and Holyrood Hotels, quickly replied: “Peter Irvine isn’t an expert in hotel developments. Peter Irvine writes a fantastic book.” And for extra spice, he added later: “We have been trying to engage properly with the Green Party but to date we have been unsuccessful, which is really disappointing.”
And after all those trees the EICC has been planting in the Borders to offset the carbon produced by fat-cats jetting in for conferences? There’s no pleasing some folk.
City council is like a parallel universe
I found myself briefly wondering if I was living in a parallel universe on Wednesday morning sitting in Edinburgh’s development management committee in which I found myself arguing unsuccessfully that permission should be refused for a dormer window on an unprepossessing 1930s house which was unlucky enough to be in the middle of a conservation area.
Having supported several unobtrusive alterations in conservation areas and lost every time, my logic was that consistency should dictate this one should fail too. Yet it was supported by at least one councillor who has repeatedly argued that what I would regard as minor alterations at the back of homes not visible from the street are against conservation area policy.
The officers are consistent in strict application of the rules, but after Wednesday who knows what applies in Edinburgh’s many conservation areas. So my advice to anyone who hears their district is about to be declared a conservation area is if you want new UPVC windows or a dormer then get them in pronto.
‘One of the greatest human achievements’
Alterations in conservation areas and Royal Mile tourists are insignificant compared to Mozambique Cyclone emergency, but terrible images of devastation can distort views of what is gradually unfolding in many developing countries.
The World Bank reported last autumn that global extreme poverty – people living on less than $2 a day – fell from nearly 36 to ten per cent in 1990-2015. From 2013-15, the last year for which figures exist, the number dropped by 68 million to 736 million, so absolutely no room for complacency.
“Over the last 25 years, more than a billion people have lifted themselves out of extreme poverty, and the global poverty rate is now lower than it has ever been in recorded history,” said Bank president Jim Yong Kim. “This is one of the greatest human achievements of our time.”