Quentin Letts:

The Sunday Telegraph - - Front Page -

Jo John­son was not the only mild-man­nered soul to give up on Theresa May last week. An el­derly friend of mine – let us call her Molly – de­cided af­ter more than half a cen­tury’s ac­tivism that she could no longer bear be­long­ing to the Con­ser­va­tives. Molly once ran the vol­un­tary party in western Eng­land. Un­der Mar­garet Thatcher and John Ma­jor she held na­tional po­si­tions and knew plenty of Cabi­net min­is­ters, in­clud­ing Mrs May. Al­though a Leaver, she quite liked David Cameron and re­garded Ukip with dis­plea­sure. But she now feels so adrift, so un-led, she will not re­new her Tory mem­ber­ship.

When she calmly told me her de­ci­sion, I was stag­gered. For this most true-blue of Tory ladies to quit the party is like Sir Roy Strong buy­ing a Bar­ratt home, the Dalai Lama join­ing the Gold­man Sachs board, Nancy Dell’Olio re­pair­ing to a nun­nery. But Molly has had enough. She thinks Mrs May limp. She can­not abide Philip Ham­mond. She thought Che­quers an out­ra­geous am­bush and she has been dis­mayed by the way Sir John Ma­jor, as he has some­how be­come, is try­ing to over­turn the ref­er­en­dum. On Brexit, Molly would pre­fer no deal to the ca­pit­u­la­tion seem­ingly in the Down­ing Street pipe­line.

But this is about more than Brexit, as the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Po­lice’s com­mis­sioner, Cres­sida Dick, made clear in yes­ter­day’s Daily Tele­graph.

Ms Dick’s crit­i­cism of Mrs May for a fail­ure of “cen­tral drive and lead­er­ship” was sig­nif­i­cant not just be­cause law and or­der is crum­bling. It was worth heed­ing be­cause, like Jo John­son and Molly, Ms Dick is the sort of level-headed per­son who nor­mally hes­i­tates to cause trou­ble. It’s of­ten heard that “the peas­ants are re­volt­ing”; now it is “the mod­er­ates are re­volt­ing” and that is more remarkable.

With many prime min­is­ters, the com­plaint goes that they are “all things to all peo­ple”. Think Cameron, first-term Blair, Wil­son, Macmil­lan. If it could only be said of Mrs May, she might be in a stronger po­si­tion. Her prob­lem is that she is noth­ing to any­one. I do not mean this in a nasty, per­sonal sense, for she is a char­i­ta­ble church­goer and her hus­band, Philip, loves her. I sim­ply mean that she ex­cites no loy­alty po­lit­i­cally. Some on­look­ers claim that the par­lia­men­tary Tory party is aboil with sab­o­tage. Is it? Apart from one or two quixotic gal­lop­ers, back­bench Con­ser­va­tive MPs have been amaz­ingly pa­tient with Mrs May. They would love to sup­port her if she only gave them more rea­son. “We are not a sink­ing ship,” says one, “but we are a ship that will even­tu­ally mutiny if pushed to it.” My MP friend had a one-to-one with Mrs May. He left kick­ing the car­pet in frus­tra­tion be­cause she could not com­pre­hend his need for po­lit­i­cal am­mu­ni­tion. Politi­cians must have facts and clear arguments to with­stand their op­po­nents.

Mrs May seems not to grasp that other par­lia­men­tar­i­ans – Jo John­son and Tracey Crouch are but the lat­est – have their break­ing points. She ex­pects ev­ery­one else to be as grind­ingly ca­reerist as she is. Here is the paradox of Theresa May: she is un­com­pro­mis­ingly elas­tic. Ar­dent Brex­i­teers grum­ble that she seems only to stretch to­wards the EU but Jo John­son’s res­ig­na­tion shows that even Europhile Tories have now had their fill of her tech­no­cratic sur­ren­ders. Has there ever been a party leader with less of a base?

In Ms Dick’s de­s­pair­ing cry for “lead­er­ship”, Tele­graph read­ers of a riper vin­tage may be re­minded of Peter Sim­ple’s char­ac­ter Lt Gen Sir Fred­er­ick “Tiger” Nid­gett, of the Royal Army Tai­lor­ing Corps. In his rhodo­den­dron-in­fested gar­den near Go­dalm­ing, eyes blaz­ing, Nid­gett would bark about “lead­er­ship, ini­tia­tive, vision, lead­er­ship and, above a all, bags of guts”. Yes, a fetish for f lead­er­ship per se can be silly. But B with­out a prime min­is­ter’s s sup­port, sub­or­di­nates be­come paral­ysed. p They need the per­son at a the top to ig­nore spe­cial plead­ing p (for in­stance from civil lib­er­ties groups) and make a hard de­ci­sion. Ms Dick is no Nid­gett. She needs her po­lit­i­cal boss to give her per­mis­sion to in­tro­duce facial-recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy that could help her col­lar “bad guys”.

Dis­miss­ing crit­i­cism of Mrs May as sab­o­tage is blind silli­ness. A prime min­is­ter has to earn loy­alty, be it from po­lice com­mis­sion­ers, MPs or long-suf­fer­ing Mollys.

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