Bri­tain’s PM finds it lonely at the top, but bat­tles on

UK faces worst po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity for decades

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

It’s lonely at the top for Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May but she’s hold­ing on-for now. May faced calls to quit from in­side and out­side her rul­ing Con­ser­va­tive Party af­ter los­ing its par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity in an ill-judged elec­tion that she did not need to call, plung­ing Bri­tain into the worst po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity for decades. She has strug­gled since then to unite her gov­ern­ment on pol­icy and to as­sem­ble a new team of aides-one Con­ser­va­tive law­maker de­scribed it as “ca­reer sui­cide” to agree to serve a leader whose days in of­fice may be num­bered.

But party sources say moves to oust May are now on hold af­ter se­nior fig­ures agreed she should be the one to at least make a start on two years of Brexit talks that are likely to stretch her gov­ern­ment and pos­si­bly the public’s pa­tience, giv­ing the world’s fifth big­gest econ­omy some breath­ing space. If she fails to make head­way or sat­isfy some of her more euroscep­tic party mem­bers, then she can an­swer for it, the party sources said. “She’ll stay for as long as we want her to,” one law­maker told Reuters, on con­di­tion of anonymity. “Now is not that time.”

Con­cerns over the re­ac­tion of Bri­tons if asked to vote for the fourth time in just over two years, over los­ing Con­ser­va­tive seats and of hav­ing some­one else take over the lead in talks with the Euro­pean Union have calmed calls to re­place May. Even the most em­bit­tered law­mak­ers say a new lead­er­ship vote would sim­ply deepen di­vi­sions in the party over Brexit and its aus­ter­ity agenda, blamed by op­po­si­tion politi­cians for a dev­as­tat­ing fire in west Lon­don that killed at least 80 peo­ple and for strain­ing a po­lice ser­vice bat­tling mil­i­tant at­tacks.

May, 60, has said she will carry on, de­spite her pride be­ing “shat­tered” by the elec­tion, said one vet­eran Con­ser­va­tive Party mem­ber who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity. “But I sus­pect her sense of duty is big­ger than (pre­de­ces­sor David) Cameron’s,” the source said. “No one ac­tu­ally wants the job, well they do want the job but not now.”

Clear­ing up the ‘mess’

May, Bri­tain’s long­est serv­ing in­te­rior min­is­ter in over a cen­tury with a rep­u­ta­tion as a tough and dili­gent politi­cian, be­came the coun­try’s sec­ond fe­male premier af­ter Mar­garet Thatcher when Cameron re­signed af­ter Bri­tons voted for Brexit. Her path then was cleared when two other hope­fuls-her now for­eign min­is­ter Boris John­son and en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter Michael Gove - all but killed off each oth­ers’ bids and she ap­pealed to mem­bers with her straight-talk­ing can-do at­ti­tude. But her boast that she could never be found “drink­ing in par­lia­ment’s bars” may come to haunt her - hav­ing not been part of one of the Con­ser­va­tive cliques, she is very much alone as oth­ers in the party plot their routes to power. The vet­eran source said her pledge to clear up “the mess” she cre­ated by stag­ing the June 8 elec­tion had soft­ened many Con­ser­va­tives, who have tra­di­tion­ally pu­n­ished lead­ers over any sign of weak­ness.

They are also driven by self-preser­va­tion. The elec­tion re­vealed the short­com­ings of Con­ser­va­tive Cam­paign Head­quar­ters and some Con­ser­va­tives say it is time to take stock and re­struc­ture be­fore the next elec­tion af­ter Jeremy Cor­byn’s op­po­si­tion Labor Party leapt in opin­ion polls. “We need to get cam­paign­ing again prop­erly, get the mes­sage out,” the law­maker said. “We have spent years mop­ping up the mess left by Labor and now we are open­ing the door to Cor­byn. The coun­try will go bank­rupt if he gets in and it’ll take us 20 years to get back.”

May in re­treat

May has promised to pro­mote re­form in the party, but forced to ac­cept the res­ig­na­tions of her two clos­est aides and a steady de­par­ture of se­nior mem­bers of her Down­ing Street of­fice team, her con­trol is drain­ing away. Ap­pointed shortly af­ter Bri­tain voted to leave the Euro­pean Union, May ran a tight ship for months - giv­ing lit­tle away, she tried to limit leaks by keep­ing some of her more pub­lic­ity hun­gry min­is­ters in check and stick­ing to the party line. Now, they have been let off the leash. Dif­fer­ences over Brexit strat­egy and a pay cap on public sec­tor work­ers are aired al­most daily while the prime min­is­ter’s projects to bring in more se­lec­tive schools and give law­mak­ers a vote on lift­ing a ban on fox hunt­ing have been dropped.

May, it seems, has re­treated. “Be­fore she could say you’re not go­ing on TV ... But now she can’t crack the whip like a prime min­is­ter nor­mally does,” the vet­eran Con­ser­va­tive said. She has re­verted to type, the source said, of the “quiet girl in class who just got on with her home­work”, al­low­ing her min­is­ters such as fi­nance min­is­ter Phillip Ham­mond to take some of the lime­light and a more com­mand­ing role. For now, de­spite dif­fer­ences, her team of se­nior min­is­ters is at least pulling in the same broad di­rec­tion, to­wards a clean break with the Euro­pean Union that sees Bri­tain out of the bloc’s sin­gle mar­ket to pri­or­i­tize con­trol­ling im­mi­gra­tion. “It’s a bit like a row­ing boat, where ev­ery­one is pulling at dif­fer­ent speeds, but not hard enough to top­ple it over,” the vet­eran Con­ser­va­tive said. — Reuters

Bri­tain’s PM Theresa May

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