Tory faithful urge May to consider walking
BRITAIN: Theresa May must consider quitting before Christmas, grass roots Tories have told The Sunday Telegraph amid concerns her leadership instability is undermining Brexit.
Leading voices among Tory activists have said the prime minister’s authority will never recover from the election flop and called for a swift leadership change. They want May to spend her summer break, which starts this week, planning a transition that would see a colleague take over without a leadership race.
One activist group leader said May was politically ‘‘crippled’’, while a cabinet minister’s local party chairman called on her to go within months. It shows the precariousness of the prime minister’s position after making it to Parliament’s summer recess. MPs will closely consider her future in the coming weeks. The full fury of Tory activists over the election was made clear to the party’s board last month at a behindclosed-doors meeting, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt.
A presentation on June 26 by Rob Semple, the most senior representative of Tory volunteers, passed on a list of criticisms from around 200 local party groups. One source present said the report criticised ‘‘every aspect of the campaign’’, including the manifesto ‘‘disaster’’ and decision to focus the pitch around Mrs May.
The presentation was deemed so sensitive that individually numbered copies were handed out for the meeting and then collected at the end.
To get a sense of what Tories outside Westminster feel about May, The Sunday Telegraph talked to more than a dozen Tory association chairmen and leading local voices. Ed Costelloe, chairman of the Grassroots Conservatives activist group, said: ‘‘After the election can she actually recover? It would need something huge and I can’t see it happening frankly.
‘‘She is effectively crippled. She herself must know that she will not be a long-term prime minister. ‘‘Everything she does, in the back of her mind is ‘what happens and how do I go’. It weighs down on everything and is a burden.
‘‘She should consider going before Christmas if it is in the interests of the party and the county. There should be a leadership switch without a contest.’’
He said May should not be ‘‘forced’’ from office but warned that ‘‘anything that looks like a crisis doesn’t help the country and doesn’t help the Brexit negotiations’’.
One chairman of a cabinet minister’s local party said: ‘‘A senior safe pair of hands should take over at the right moment, which means in the next three months.
‘‘I haven’t spoken to a single activist who said ‘that election went well, the leadership is doing a good job’.’’
The views are not shared universally, with some association chairmen favouring stability despite the election result after a period of cabinet infighting. One said a speedy leadership switch would trigger a damaging civil war in the party with no obvious unity candidate.
Another said May should stay put ‘‘at the moment’’ after a turbulent few months. However few believed she should fight the next election as leader.
Tory members would pick May’s replacement if there was a leadership contest, choosing from a shortlist of two candidates selected by MPs. Politicians across the party see the summer recess when MPs will be away from Westminster until September 5 - as a crucial period for May.
A small group of MP rebels hope the time can be used to build momentum against her leadership in the run-up to the October party conference.
Senior figures on the 1922 Tory backbench committee delivered a public show of support this week by telling Mrs May she could sack any ministers caught leaking. May will have three weeks abroad - one in Italy, two walking the Alps in Switzerland - to take stock of her position after a febrile few months.
Last month the Conservative Party board was told of the full scale of anger among Tory activists over the handling of the election. Discussing the feedback, one source present said: ‘‘Every aspect of the campaign was wrong. The manifesto was a disaster. The focus on Theresa May was bad.
- Telegraph Group