It's all change at Tory HQ and open warfare between Labour factions
As new PM Theresa May shows her steeliness, the Labour party is being destroyed by the hard-left, says Ruth Dudley Edwards
Published 17/07/2016 | 02:30
On a Sunday afternoon in May, I was sitting in a pub with friends when Len McCluskey, the Unite General Secretary, brushed past our table, saw on it the pub's copy of The Sun On Sunday and said quite aggressively: "You shouldn't read that paper. It's fascist, racist, sexist. You shouldn't be reading it."
This self-important, far-left bully is the man who brought the Labour Party Ed Miliband, helped create the crazy voting system that elected Jeremy Corbyn, and is keeping in power an incompetent who can no longer even staff his front bench. The party's Kingmaker has become its Destroyer.
It's just over three weeks since Leave won the referendum, causing consternation internationally and precipitating domestically an election for a new leader of the Conservative Party and an outbreak of a vicious Labour civil war between MPs and party members. We political junkies have been painfully distracted with the Westminster blood-letting, which commentators keep comparing to House of Cards and Game of Thrones, but many with little interest in politics have also been impatiently awaiting the next plot twist. Social gatherings have been dominated by incredulous announcements of the latest snippets from news feeds about the implosion of Labour and frenzied speculation about who's up and who's down among the Tories.
On Friday June 24, the day the results came in, David Cameron had announced he'd be leaving his job by October when his party had elected a successor. Any hopes his buddy and Chancellor George Osborne had had been dashed by a recent bad patch.
The Conservative Party doesn't hang about, so the process was initiated immediately and was designed to end on September 9 after a membership vote. Nominations closed on June 30, by which time the best-known candidate, ex-Mayor of London Boris Johnson, famous at home and abroad for his indiscretions and charisma, had dropped out because of the defection from his campaign of his Leave ally, the radical reformer Michael Gove, who had so despaired at Boris's inability to manage his leadership bid that he had decided to stand himself, thus being variously compared to Brutus, Judas, Iago and Macbeth.
Boris was now backing Leaver Andrea Leadsom, whom hardly anyone had heard of. I thought her an extraordinary choice, since Private Eye had been pointing out for years that she was involved in tax avoidance and had seriously inflated her CV. But the People's Boris had praised her "zap, drive and determination".
The five candidates faced a first ballot on Tuesday July 5, when another prominent Leaver, Liam Fox, a Scots medical doctor of Irish Catholic heritage on the right of the party, was eliminated. He had had to resign in 2011 as Secretary of State for Defence because of undue closeness to a lobbyist and his career was once again dismissed as toast.
The little-known Stephen Crabb, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions since last March, a devout Christian with an impeccable rags-to-riches background, then pulled out and endorsed Theresa May, the only other Remainer, who had won 50pc of the votes.
Unfortunately for his reputation, it would emerge a few days later that this husband and father who lauded family values had been 'sexting' a female friend.
Gove went out with a humiliating 15pc of the vote on Thursday July 7, but though the redoubtable Mrs May had won 60pc to Mrs Leadsom's 25pc, there was plenty of hot money on her ultimately losing to the "fresh face" in the poll of members. Having been Home Secretary for a near record of six years, May was seen as a safe pair of hands but - despite her penchant for exciting shoes - the dull option. It was whispered that with diabetes so bad she has to inject herself four times a day, she would be unable to do properly such a punishing job
At which stage the press began to investigate Mrs Leadsom more thoroughly and uncover fanciful claims and she gave a clumsy interview in which she implied that having children made her the better candidate of the two, which was seen as breaking the Queensberry rules.
Labour's Angela Eagle, in mid-press conference about her intention of standing against Corbyn, was abandoned by the press as they ran to cover Leadsom's announcement of her withdrawal.
So on Monday July 11, Mrs May became leader of the Conservative Party and on Wednesday Cameron and his family left Downing Street to stay in a house hastily provided by a rich friend.
Mrs May, who was expected to make a few safe appointments, embarked on a Cabinet reshuffle more ruthless and unexpected than any in living memory. The ejected included Osborne, who had been tipped as Foreign Secretary, Crabb (to spend more time with his family), and Gove, an outstanding reforming Justice Secretary, whom she apparently recommended to use his time on the back benches demonstrating his loyalty. Then she put in charge of Brexit what are being called the Giant Egos - Liam Fox, David Davis (a passionate critic of many of May's policies) and - at the astounded Foreign Office - Boris Johnson. Opinion is divided between those who think they'll sink their differences, play to their strengths and negotiate an excellent deal and those who believe May has put them there to take the blame if the deal is poor.
Mrs May has a very strong marriage but otherwise is so self-contained she is often described as icy. A favourite negotiation technique is to listen carefully to a proposition she dislikes and then just say "No." Her detractors claim she is authoritarian, a micromanger who dislikes bright ideas from outside her tight circle, and that she made many bad decisions in the Home Office.
In many ways she's an unknown quantity, but in these unduly interesting times her steeliness is an asset along with her industry, intelligence and courage.
The appointment as Northern Ireland Secretary of Remainer James Brokenshire is encouraging, for she rates him highly, he's held the security and immigration brief, and he's already made it clear that he wants a soft border.
In his last Prime Minister's Questions, Cameron said of Labour: "We got on with it - we had resignation, nomination, competition and coronation. They haven't even decided what the rules are yet." Then, when they did, one of their major donors announced he would legally challenge the decision to let Corbyn on the ballot paper without MPs' support.
An Eccentric Party of Great Britain spokesman observed, "If my late friend Screaming Lord Sutch, the founder of the Monster Raving Loony Party, were alive today, I suspect he would look at Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party and seriously consider filing suits for breach of patent."
And he'd include Len McCluskey on the writ.