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The Theresa Mayniacs

John Rentoul

conhome 300x222 The Theresa MayniacsBy way of a footnote to my article today for The Independent on Sunday, I should say that Theresa May, Home Secretary and candidate prime minister, is only “comprehensive-educated” in the sense that the grammar school she attended became a comprehensive before she left it. And before that, from the ages of 11 to 13, she went to a private Catholic school.

However, she could certainly be a more classless prime minister if Conservative MPs concluded that David Cameron and George Osborne’s posh-boy toffiness were what would really lose them their seats. (The extraordinary retro-spartist backdrop for the conference may have been designed to push this point: above, May and Nadhim Zahawi.)

The lateness of her speech to the Conservative Home Victory 2015 conference yesterday was a little alarming for me, as I had written my article, which is usually sent to the printers at about 4pm, assuming that she was serious about wanting to pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights. Fortunately, she got to that bit soon after 5pm so I put in a quotation from the speech and off the page went, a little late.

The important paragraph was this one:

We need to stop human rights legislation [at this point she lost her place and paused to unintended comic effect] interfering with our ability to fight crime and control immigration. That’s why, as our last manifesto promised, the next Conservative government will scrap the Human Rights Act, and it’s why we should also consider very carefully our relationship with the European Court of Human Rights and the Convention it enforces. When Strasbourg constantly moves the goalposts and prevents the deportation of dangerous men like Abu Qatada, we have to ask ourselves, to what end are we signatories to the Convention? Are we really limiting human rights abuses in other countries? I’m sceptical. But are we restricting our ability to act in the national interest? Are we conceding that our own Supreme Court is not supreme? I believe we are. So by 2015 we’ll need a plan for dealing with the European Court of Human Rights. And yes, I want to be clear that all options – including leaving the Convention altogether – should be on the table.

This is, as I say, a big moment. It may be unlikely that she, David Cameron or Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, would get to carry out the policy; they are engaged in trying to deny Labour a majority. If the best for which the Tories can hope is another coalition with the Liberal Democrats, then pulling out of the ECHR is a non-starter.

But it is important. Slightly to my surprise, as a Blairite civil illibertarian Eurosceptic, I don’t agree with it. Adam Wagner, who knows more about this stuff than I do, explains it better.

What I find extraordinary is that David Cameron shares May’s analysis. He even thinks, I understand, that repudiating the ECHR would help make the case for Britain staying in the EU. If only the frustrations with the Convention – such as the length of time the Qatada case has dragged on – could be dispensed with, those of EU membership, which is separate from the Convention, could be overcome. So we may think this isn’t going to happen, but Cameron is working on the basis that he has an EU membership referendum to win in 2017.

But back to May. Her delivery yesterday was poor. She started off sounding like Margaret Thatcher, except that she kept stumbling and stopping, pausing in the wrong places and misreading her text. After that, she settled into a tedious drone.

There has not been much recent polling on her: YouGov had her as a net 34% liability to the Government in September, with only Nick Clegg 41% and Osborne 42% worse. Which means she is currently trapped in a feedback loop. Tory MPs might hope from a honeymoon effect of a leadership change, but they are unlikely to have the courage to change unless the polls tell them that they would win a higher vote under her as leader than under Cameron (as the polls did briefly for Gordon Brown before the 2005 election). And the polls are unlikely to suggest any such thing unless a change becomes a realistic and imminent prospect.

And, finally, a footnote about Tim Montgomerie, the outgoing editor of Con Home who is a Mayniac* and the organiser of yesterday’s conference, whose appointment as comment editor of The Times would seem to be part of a significant turn by Rupert Murdoch against Cameron.

One well-placed source mused to me: “Which is more influential? Con Home or The Times?”

David Mills.

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  • greggf

    Theresa May may be thinking she can emulate Mrs Thatcher’s success of the mid 1970s in gaining leadership of the Conservative party.

    This period is significant because she is old enough to remember the Oil crisis and recession of the ’70s, the Labour government’s handling (or mishandling) of it, the associated sterling crisis and Dennis Healey’s consequent humiliating return from Heathrow in 1976 etc. And she may also see, with hindsight, how the lessons of that time may apply to today’s problems. It is also significant because parliamentary coalitions resulted from both crises.

    It has been a criticism of Blair, Brown and Cameron that they didn’t anticipate the downturn of 2007/8, perhaps because the lessons of the 70s were not seen as applicable, or more likely, simply not seen!

    Recessions come in different shapes, sizes and sources but their politics is, or should be, generally the same. In the ’70s reform of the industrial situation was the answer; this time it’s reform of the financial situation that seems to be needed.

    Theresa May may perceive history repeating itself and a chance to profit from it personally as well as benefiting the nation.

  • mightymark

    Is the UK alone in having doubts about aspects of the ECHR and the Convention?

    I ask that because the Convention being, presumably, not immutable, it could be amended if enough signatories were having problems with it. If so, why is the only alternative to our understandable frustrations over the ECHR seen as withdrawal? One idea for instance might be to alter the balance between civil liberties and security in the light of the terrorist threat. It would not guarantee no more Abu Quatada type cases – no Rule of Law system could do that – but it could make them less likely.


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