The Theresa Mayniacs
By 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.
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.Tagged in: conservative party, theresa may
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